The current COVID-19 pandemic, like many crises before it, has disproportionally affected communities of color, hitting Black and Latinx communities the hardest. COVID-19 has re-exposed the ingrained racism restricting access to quality healthcare, education, secure employment, and stable housing.
Safe, affordable housing and strong neighborhoods, in particular, can have both current and long-lasting future impacts on an individual’s health. Collaboration between state health departments and community developers can reduce the place-based health inequities in low-income neighborhoods and communities of color.
“Community developers address factors that drive health outcomes,” says John Robitscher, MPH, CEO of the National Association of Chronic Disease Directors (NACDD). Those factors include affordable homes, local economic opportunity, healthy food access, recreational spaces, and community engagement. “Given the public health sector’s expertise in measuring health outcomes, collaboration could lead to more effective use of limited funding,” adds Robitscher.
As Executive Director of Build Healthy Places Network, Dr. Doug Jutte works to advance collaboration between the health and community development sectors. Through a speaking role at NACDD’s Chronic Disease Academy, he saw an opportunity to introduce NACDD to his colleagues at the National Alliance of Community Economic Development Associations (NACEDA). Because both national associations have state-level members and are deeply committed to upstream, long-term interventions that improve wellbeing and health in communities, Dr. Jutte recognized that we were well-positioned for partnership. Following an introduction of our leadership in 2019, our associations began to forge a formal collaboration.
Now NACDD and NACEDA foster our partnership by educating our members about each other’s work and providing opportunities for connection. Both associations have posted partner finder pages on our websites and have hosted webinars for our respective memberships; introducing who we are, what we do, our expertise, and ideas for collaboration. And collaborations of this kind are growing.
For example, NACDD Member Ben Wood, Director, Division of Community Health Planning and Engagement at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MA- DPH), states, “the work of community development corporations is the work of public health. At MA-DPH, our priorities are to advance health and racial equity by addressing the root causes of health. This can only be accomplished through community-led solutions and partnerships with organizations like the Massachusetts Association of Community Development Corporations. Partnerships between public health and community development have generated big wins for communities and made important advancements to equitable opportunities for health.”
The Massachusetts Association of Community Development Corporations (MACDC) and their member organizations have also benefited from their relationship with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. Elana Brochin, Program Director for Health Equity at MACDC, says, “because Massachusetts community developers have deep relationships in low- and moderate-communities across Massachusetts, they are uniquely situated to improve social determinants of health. Through our partnership with MA-DPH, Massachusetts’ community development corporations have strengthened their impact in the health space. Further, this partnership has allowed for the ongoing integration of health equity into the Massachusetts community development landscape.”
This longstanding relationship between the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and the Massachusetts Association of Community Development Corporations has led to the Massachusetts Community Health and Healthy Aging Funds’ inaugural awards. As part of these awards, the MA-DPH will collaborate with six community development corporations across Massachusetts. These MACDC members are leading efforts to address the root causes of health inequities by disrupting systemic barriers. For example, Hilltown Community Development Corporation is addressing barriers to safe walkability through policies, systems, and environmental change. Lawrence CommunityWorks is addressing housing instability and other barriers to healthy living for low-income, primarily Latinx local residents.
NACEDA and NACDD are also partnering on federal policy, specifically on the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA). This federal regulation impacts the flow of billions of dollars in bank dollars to low- and moderate-income communities. John Robitscher submitted comments about the proposed rule changes, stating, “NACDD is concerned that the proposed changes to the CRA will magnify place-based health disparities that already exist due to historical policies that disadvantage certain communities.”
“It’s incredibly helpful for community developers to have public health leaders as partners,” stated NACEDA Executive Director Frank Woodruff. “The pandemic has made painfully clear how linked our networks need to be. As our country builds up our public health infrastructure in the coming years, it will be necessary for community developers to put themselves forward not only as builders of community wealth, but as stewards of public health.”
It’s time that two separate pieces of the puzzle come together to take on chronic health issues in communities.
Understanding Public Health and Community Development Partnerships, hosted by NACDD
Partnering with State Public Health Departments, hosted by NACEDA