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A Forum that Looks at Health, Housing and the Importance of Urban Development

Community conditions like access to quality, affordable housing in good neighborhoods actually influence people’s health more than any other factor.  This is why a network of local health departments, town planners, and municipal leaders are coming together to discuss, invest and transform impoverished neighborhoods into healthy ones.

This week, the Connecticut Association of Directors of Health (CADH), the Connecticut Chapter of the American Planning Association  and the Partnership for Strong Communities are partnering to sponsor a forum on the intersection of housing and health, Housing and Land Use for a Healthy Public: Planning, Design and Development to Promote Health. Robert Ogilvie, director of Public Health Law Policy’s Planning for Healthy Places program, will be the keynote speaker. [Please email Laura Bachman at [email protected] to register for this forum]

HealthJusticeCT recently spoke with Alyssa Norwood, Health Program Associate, and CADH Health Equity Action Team Lead, to learn more about this forum.

HJCT:  What is the intersection of health and housing? Why are you hosting this forum?

AN: For many reasons. The local public health community has typically focused on individual housing units with much success, but where we still have some work to do is in making these housing units affordable and making sure these units are located in areas of opportunities.

Affordability, itself is not enough. Historically, affordable housing has been built in areas of concentrated poverty. Our Health Equity Index found that affordable housing was concentrated in community conditions that promote poor health outcomes. Housing must be in areas that are economically thriving, safe, have access to healthy foods, and have opportunities for residents to be physically active. All of these community conditions are critical health indicators.

Connecticut, nationally, fares very poorly in terms of making housing units affordable. This is clearly a problem, and the policy brief that will be shared at the forum will address issues of affordability and the importance of safe and affordable housing in supporting good health outcomes.

HJCT: Why is housing a health equity issue?

AN: Though this issue affects everyone, it disproportionally affects racial and ethnic groups because of our state’s long history of racial and residential segregation. These regions tend to be the same areas that have the poorest community conditions. For example, in New Haven, asthma rates are 5.6 times higher than the rest of the state, and it has one of the highest concentrations of people of color. This is a classic example where place matters.

Q:  Why is Connecticut so racially and ethnically segregated?  

There are many answers to this question. But one area that this forum will focus on is zoning. Historically our zoning patterns prevent density from being built. Some people may prefer suburban areas; however a lot of market research has shown that people are favoring mixed income neighborhoods, where the areas are dense, walkable and ultimately more affordable for everyone.

Q: What do you hope to accomplish with this forum?

We would like to see urban planners and local health departments work collaboratively to develop healthy communities.

HJCT:  Can you elaborate as to why urban planning is part of the solution?

AN:  There are lots of things that urban planners can do to the built environment that would create a much healthier community.  As an example, zoning language can be updated to promote health, which will allow for the development of community gardens, pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure and the prevention of fast foods restaurants in school based areas. Local health directors with access to the Health Equity Index can provide nuanced data, sometimes down to the neighborhood level, to help urban planners make decisions that will be optimally health promoting.  In the end, they are the ones that have the ability, power and the technical expertise to make some of the changes that local public health officials can inform.

Housing and Planning for a Healthy Public: Land Use, Design and Development to Promote Health Equity

When: Wednesday, April 25, 2012                        Where: The Lyceum, 226 Lawrence Street, Hartford

For more information, please contact Alyssa Norwood or visit



Top Left Image credit by iStock Photos

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