Health and Community Development: Some Perspectives and Resources

  • Affordable Housing and Neighborhoods
  • Neighborhoods and Place
  • Community Development Finance
  • Local Economic Development

When it comes to the health of people in communities, especially in economically distressed places, the Southeast tends to lag behind other regions of the country. For example, Mississippi, in a tie with West Virginia, has the highest obesity rateOff-site link in the country at 35.1 percent. Alabama ranks first in the number of adults informed they have diabetes at 13.2 percentOff-site link. In fact, Mississippi, Tennessee, Louisiana, and Alabama are among the top 10 states with the highest death ratesOff-site link for heart disease, stroke, cancer, and infant mortality.

Challenges persist in our region, but promising efforts are emerging to coordinate more comprehensive interventions aimed at the intersection of community development and health. For example, the Atlanta Regional Collaborative for Health ImprovementOff-site link is among a handful of recipients of an Alignment for Health Equity and Development grantOff-site link from the Public Health Institute, in partnership with the Reinvestment Fund and the Kresge Foundation. This effort will work in targeted communities where poverty and health inequities are concentrated in order make more effective community investments. There are several other entities—including the Florida Institute for Health InnovationsOff-site link, Georgia State University Health Policy CenterOff-site link, the Louisiana Public Health InstituteOff-site link, Georgia Tech Center for Quality Growth and Regional DevelopmentOff-site link, and the Health Foundation of South FloridaOff-site link, to name a few—that are building evidence and supporting and deploying initiatives that bring the community development and public health sectors together.

These organizations have embraced an intervention strategy based on the social determinants of health. The World Health Organization defines social determinants of health as "the circumstances in which people are born, grow up, live, work and age, and the systems put in place to deal with illness." These social determinants of health connect community development to health outcomes. For example, the availability of quality affordable housing can reduce asthma incidence among low-income residents by providing a healthy place to live while also giving households the financial wherewithal to make other health-promoting choices such as seeking preventive medical care or purchasing and preparing healthy foods.

In practical terms, bringing together community development and health provides an opportunity for practitioners to identify new partners, draw from each sectors' tools and methods, and measure success in new ways.

In the six years since the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco published a journal devoted to Health and Community DevelopmentOff-site link, a number of banks across the Federal Reserve System have responded with conferences and publications related to the topic. The resources generated by our colleagues collectively represent a rich source of data and analysis on the connections of health and community development.

  • The San Francisco Fed: Leads the Federal Reserve System's work in healthy communities, including hosting the Healthy Communities InitiativeOff-site link within the bank's community development department. The Healthy Communities Initiative was designed to enrich the debate on how cross-sector and place-based approaches to revitalize low-income communities might both revitalize neighborhoods and improve health. The San Francisco Fed leads in terms of thought leadership, partnerships with national funders (including the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation), professional associations, and more. Its 2009 issue of Community Development Investment ReviewOff-site link was dedicated to health and community development, and the bank hosts a comprehensive library of publicationsOff-site link on the topic. From 2010 to 2014, the San Francisco Fed has hosted or cohosted dozens of local, regional, and national eventsOff-site link focused on connecting community development and health. Finally, in 2014 the San Francisco Fed and the Urban Institute released What Counts: Harnessing Data for America's CommunitiesOff-site link, a collection of essays on using data to reduce poverty, improve health, expand access to quality education, and build stronger communities.
  • The Minneapolis Fed: Hosts the Minnesota Healthy Communities initiativeOff-site link, which is part of the broader partnership between the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Federal Reserve Banks to promote collaboration between community development and health practitioners. The bank hosted Minnesota Healthy Communities Conferences in 2012 and 2013Off-site link and 2014Off-site link. A member of the bank's community development team partnered with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to produce a research reportOff-site link on collaboration to build healthier communities.
  • The Dallas Fed: Has a resource centerOff-site link within the bank's community development function to disseminate the healthy communities' framework through presentations, resources, white papers, and Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) specific materials. Most resources have been produced by third parties, universities, think tanks, and others outside the Federal Reserve System. In 2014, the Dallas Fed's community development staff published Healthy Communities: A Framework for Meeting CRA Obligations Adobe PDF file format Off-site link. In Sept 2011, the Dallas Fed and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation cohosted the event Healthy Communities: The Intersection of Community Development and HealthOff-site link.
  • The Chicago Fed: Hosted a 2013 regional summit in Chicago and 2014 meetingOff-site link in Milwaukee that explored the converging visions of community and economic development, public health, and the public safety/criminal justice system. A member of the bank's community development team published an articleOff-site link in the Chicago Fed's Profit Wise News and Views, largely summarizing themes from a 2013 regional summit in Chicago.
  • The Boston and New York Feds: Each hosted a very similar healthy communities conference (see hereOff-site link and hereOff-site link) in 2011, in partnership with the San Francisco Fed.

Community development practitioners may consider engaging local or state public health departments or check out the National Association of County & City Health OfficialsOff-site link to learn more about efforts to advance healthy communities.

By community and economic development assistant vice president Karen Leone de Nie and adviser Will Lambe