Building healthy places: How are community development organizations contributing?

Alina Schnake-Mahl, Sarah Norman

During the past fifty years, community development organizations have worked in low-income communities that face the greatest barriers to good health. While recent changes in the American healthcare system and philanthropic sector provide new opportunities to partner with community development organizations to address health disparities, knowledge of current health-focused strategies and partnerships among local community-based organizations is limited. Through a survey conducted by NeighborWorks America of 242 high-performing community development organizations across the United States, we examine health strategies, partnerships, and services delivered by community development organizations and professionals. In 2015, 218 organizations (88.62 percent) engaged in activities at the nexus of health, housing, and community development; strategies focused on healthy homes and food access were the most common. Among respondents, 205 (83.3 percent) organizations engaged partners to support their work. While our results show significant efforts by community development organizations to explicitly target health, they also highlight opportunities for increased engagement. We elevate calls to address gaps between formal medical care and community health needs through more locally based services and partnerships. As the health care system increasingly addresses social determinants of health, we urge stakeholders to partner with housing and community development organizations already working in communities across the country.


Alina Schnake-Mahl was a 2016 recipient of the The Edward M. Gramlich Fellowship in Community and Economic Development, a fellowship is co-sponsored by JCHS and NeighborWorks®America.