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Region VIII Finds Natural Link to Improving Health

By Rick Garcia

The United States is in the midst of recovering from a tumultuous period in our housing markets. In the most recent Housing Scorecard released by the Obama Administration, data shows continued signs the market is strengthening. HUD and FHA have played a central role in this recovery by stabilizing neighborhoods, helping struggling homeowners avoid foreclosure, and ensuring a flow of capital to support affordable housing despite a difficult fiscal climate.

Yet our mission at HUD extends far beyond the obvious call to protect and preserve housing across our nation. We have a duty to support progress and reform in every aspect benefiting underserved communities. This includes support to the launch of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

HUD’s mission to provide quality, affordable housing was created with a specific priority in mind – to utilize housing as a platform for improving quality of life. HUD and its local and state government partners witness the undeniable connection between quality of life and access to affordable healthcare every day. In fact, the families that HUD provides assistance to are among the neediest in our society. The average income for a HUD assisted family is $12,500. This too often leaves them with the choice of paying for health insurance or paying for basic goods and services.

The ACA is designed to drastically change that reality by developing new care delivery models to provide lower cost, higher quality health care. HUD is uniquely poised to partner with other federal agencies across the nation to help educate the public on how key components of the ACA will impact their lives.  Individuals may enroll at healthcare.gov.  To get more information, a hotline is available in more than 140 languages at (800) 318-2596.

As the President has said “Those of us who believe that every American deserves access to quality affordable health care have an obligation to now make sure that full implementation (of the Affordable Care Act) moves forward the way it needs to.”

With that charge in mind, HUD’s Denver Regional Office has joined with 16 other federal departments within the National Prevention Council. This consortium is led by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), through the Office of the Surgeon General. In June 2011, the council released the National Prevention Strategy, which was designed to guide our nation in the most effective and achievable means for improving health and well-being. This document also serves as a roadmap for federal partners to explore their role in improving the health of every American, at every stage of life.

Aligning our prevention efforts is central to the success of the National Prevention Strategy. As the Center for Disease Control (CDC) Public Health Advisor, LTC Shauna Mettee said during the most recent National Prevention Strategy meeting in Denver, “These relationships matter. They aren’t just another collaborative meeting. They are key partnerships designed to foster real change throughout our communities.”

Region VIII, HUD has witnessed the power of these cross-agency partnerships. Just recently my staff and I participated in an event led by the U.S. Forest Service at Denver’s City Park. Get Outdoors Colorado held its sixth annual event to expose families in the Denver metro area to the incredible health benefits available through outdoor activity.

We also partnered with Mental Health First Aid Colorado (MHFACO). MHFACO is a statewide, public education program committed to empowering individuals to identify, understand and respond to those in mental health and substance abuse crises. The results are two trained and qualified Region VIII Field Office Directors as Mental Health First Aid Instructors.

In addition, we partnered with HHS to develop an exciting webinar series called "Designing Healthy Communities: Promoting Affordable, Accessible, Safe, and Healthy Housing Webinar" The webinar featured HUD’s recent sustainable communities partners in Rifle, CO; Pine Ridge, SD and Denver, CO.

I know these steps are just the beginning of our journey toward transforming local communities. Whether the reason is better housing or health, we stand ready to champion the rights of the most vulnerable members of our society and we look forward to the changes the National Prevention Strategy and the Affordable Care Act will make throughout the Rocky Mountain HUD region.