A few months into the pandemic, statistics proved what common sense had long dictated: Poor housing options are directly linked to poor health outcomes.
A report by The Boston Foundation found unequivocal connections between the rapid spread of COVID- 19 and crowded housing conditions, in which it is difficult or impossible to isolate infected residents. To be clear: This density is not an urban issue of congested sidewalks and packed office buildings, but a socioeconomic issue of housing density and crowding. As the report notes, BIPOC households are more likely to reside in poorer neighborhoods and in shared accommodations — the long-term result of redlining, systemic racism and historic residential segregation (1).
In recent years, demand for urban real estate has grown, pricing lower income people out of working-class neighborhoods. Instead, they are forced to crowd together (2). Families double- or triple-up in single-family homes — in some cases entire families share a single bedroom. Multiple households share kitchens and bathrooms. People live in unfinished basement or attic spaces. In 2020, these conditions, which were already difficult, turned deadly.
The situation is soon likely to compound. With escalating job loss related to the economic crisis, many people have been unable to pay their rent; facing eviction, they may have no choice but to move in with friends or family.
As a patient mission-driven lender, BlueHub works with borrowers to understand their challenges and the challenges of their residents and tenants. In 2020, BlueHub provided short-term payment deferrals to borrowers as needed, and we believe our flexibility enables landlords to extend flexibility to residents.
Yet, that only addresses part of the problem.
We need to increase the housing supply along the full spectrum of need, from temporary housing for the homeless, to permanent supportive housing for formerly homeless, to new affordable housing options. We look to partners like The Neighborhood Developers (TND), a housing nonprofit in Chelsea, Massachusetts, to meet those needs. We have recently invested in a new TND venture to develop 77 units of affordable senior housing with senior-focused healthcare and wellness services, located in an area that has been particularly hard-hit by the pandemic. Of note: TND’s buildings have clear guidelines concerning how many people can live in an apartment — and Executive Director Rafael Mares observes that TND residents have far lower rates of COVID-19 infection than their neighbors. This is a path forward.
Of course, the idea of housing affordability and accessibility as a social determinant of health is not new. But the ravages of the current pandemic have helped elevate and given renewed urgency to the conversation. We are committed to ensuring that talk begets action.