Bon Secours Mercy, Dignity Health advance affordable housing initiatives

September 15, 2019


Cincinnati-based Bon Secours Mercy Health system and San Francisco-based Dignity Health are two of six U.S. health system participants in an affordable housing initiative announced early this year.

Dubbed Accelerating Investments for Healthy Communities, the initiative will assist participating hospitals and health systems in partnering with others in their communities to preserve and increase the supply of affordable housing, according to the Center for Community Investment at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy.

Bon Secours Mercy
Dignity Health, part of CommonSpirit Health, provided a $1.2 million bridge loan to help fill a funding gap in the development of the Arrowhead Grove Neighborhood Revitalization project, shown above. A public-private partnership has committed to build about 400 units of affordable housing, a community center and other amenities to transform a former crime-ridden public housing project in San Bernardino, Calif., into a place where people can thrive.

"Hospitals and health systems can play an important role in creating robust community investment systems that reduce health inequities and help people thrive," said Robin Hacke, executive director and co-founder of the Center for Community Investment, which is the organization running Accelerating Investments for Healthy Communities.

Affordable housing is key to ensuring good health, as well as social and economic stability in communities, the group said.

In Baltimore, Bon Secours Health System, a forerunner of Bon Secours Mercy, has been developing affordable housing in distressed neighborhoods since the late 1980s, said George Kleb, executive director, housing and community development, at Bon Secours Baltimore Health System. The projects have included renovating row houses and schools, as well as new construction.

"We've got a subsidiary that does affordable housing — that develops and manages affordable housing," Kleb said in an interview. "We do want to accelerate our investment as part of the (Center for Community Investment) program. The fact that we had some track record helped us to be chosen to participate."

Kleb said Bon Secours has developed more than 800 affordable rental housing units in West Baltimore, an economically challenged area. The system partners with a third-party property management company. The units run at about 98 percent occupancy.

Baltimore housing prices have increased steadily, albeit not as rapidly as markets such as Washington, D.C., or San Francisco, Kleb said. Bon Secours and its partners have developed the affordable housing through the use of low-income housing tax credits and private loans.

Bon Secours Mercy's investment in West Baltimore is an extension of the health system's historic mission to assist the communities it serves, he added.

More than 2,500 miles away, in San Bernardino, Calif., a team from Dignity Health has worked with its community partners and the state to leverage more than $20 million for the multiphase Arrowhead Grove Neighborhood Revitalization project.

Dignity Health, which is part of Chicago-based CommonSpirit Health, has a tradition of lending to developers of affordable housing through its community investment program. Recognizing the promise of the Arrowhead Grove project, Dignity Health provided a $1.2 million bridge loan to help fill a critical funding gap.

"Health systems are just starting to understand that somehow participation in the social determinants of health — housing being one of them — is essential to the health of the community," said Dr. Margo Young, director of community health for Dignity Health in the Inland Empire service area.

Dignity Health, she said, is committed to serving as a "vital partner" in rebuilding the San Bernardino community "neighborhood by neighborhood."

Other health systems participating in the Accelerating Investments for Healthy Communities initiative are Boston Medical Center; Kaiser Permanente in Prince George's and Montgomery counties, Md.; Nationwide Children's Hospital, Columbus, Ohio; and UPMC in Pittsburgh.

The initiative receives support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

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