Using Data to Address Health Disparities and Drive Investment in Healthy Neighborhoods

In struggling high-poverty neighborhoods across the country, community development and medical professionals, who often serve the same population but who have historically operated in silos, are beginning to work together in new and exciting ways. One of the most promising opportunities for advancement in this area is through the use of shared data and metrics to target interventions and measure impact. Community development projects that improve housing conditions, public safety, employment, transportation, walkability, and access to green space and healthy food can have a profound impact on health outcomes. In most cases, however, practitioners of community development and medicine do not have the ability to measure the impact of these projects over time. As a result, the health benefits and related cost savings of these interventions remain essentially invisible.

In 2012, I set out on a journey with colleagues from the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) and the Massachusetts Housing Investment Corporation (MHIC) to better understand and tackle these challenges. Our interest in health data and metrics grew out of a collaborative effort to build a new real estate investment fund for transit-oriented development (TOD) (TOD is a type of development that includes a mixture of housing, office, retail, and other amenities integrated into a walkable neighborhood and located within a half-mile of quality public transportation) called the Healthy Neighborhoods Equity Fund.