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Housing solutions that improve health

MSGA announces grants to 8 community organizations in Massachusetts

May 18, 2020

Last week, we shared with you how the Massachusetts Smart Growth Alliance will restructure and evolve. This week, we’d like to share an example of how the work will continue using a collaborative team approach.

In the fall, we launched a two-year project to implement housing solutions that improve health. Our work is supported by an award from the Kresge Foundation’s Advancing Health Equity and Housing initiative and will focus on the following goals:

  1. Maximize the role and voice of resident-led organizations in low-income and immigrant communities and communities of color to advance health equity through housing.
  2. Strengthen the connections between grassroots health, housing and environmental justice groups and statewide policy organizations.
  3. Advance state and local policy to:
    1. Increase housing stability by strengthening our tenant protection laws and systems so we can reduce evictions and displacement;
    2. Improve housing quality, especially in the Commonwealth’s aging housing stock in our Gateway Cities, to reduce negative health impacts caused by poor housing;
    3. Increase investment in affordable housing that meets the needs of families, individuals and seniors with low or modest incomes; 
    4. Increase the supply of well-designed mixed income housing located in walkable, vibrant, resilient communities with good access to transit and other amenities.

The pandemic makes the need for safe and secure housing for all Massachusetts residents even more critical. Residents understand the problems better than anyone, and community partners make sure that residents are part of the solution.

We committed $90,000 of our grant award to support local grassroots organizations leading important housing campaigns that can improve health. The COVID-19 emergency motivated us to accelerate the release of these funds so that they can support immediate efforts to help address the impact of the virus on the hardest hit communities.

Eight resident-led organizations will receive $11,250 each:

  • Alternatives for Community and Environment, Roxbury
  • Arise for Social Justice, Springfield
  • Boston Affordable Housing Coalition (MA Alliance of HUD Tenants), Boston
  • Coalition for Social Justice, Southeastern Massachusetts
  • Codman Square Neighborhood Development Corporation, Dorchester
  • Green Roots, Inc., Chelsea & East Boston
  • Lawrence CommunityWorks, Lawrence
  • Worcester Interfaith, Worcester

Project descriptions can be found here. This initiative is led and supported by MSGA members, including the Massachusetts Public Health Association, Citizens Housing and Planning Association, Conservation Law Foundation, LISC Boston, Metropolitan Area Planning Council, and Massachusetts Association of CDCs.


COVID-19 has shown us that where you live can determine how long you live. Safe, stable, and affordable housing is the cornerstone of physical and mental health. 

We’ve known this for some time. A 2012 study of Boston found that some parts of Roxbury had a life expectancy under 60 years old, while a mile away in the Back Bay, life expectancy was above 90 years old. Data from 2015 reflects this in Massachusetts as a whole: residents of a low-income neighborhood in New Bedford have an average life expectancy of 68 years old while residents of a wealthy neighborhood in Newton can expect to live beyond 94 years old.

Our communities are responsible for these unfair health differences far more than any individual behaviors. These larger conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age are called the social determinants of health.

In other words, the choices we have are shaped by the access to opportunities around us in terms of food, jobs, health care, schools, transportation, parks, safety, clean air, and more. Housing stability, safety, quality, cost, and location are the main pathways through which housing determines your health.

MSGA works to improve the built environment so that all residents can survive and thrive, but the housing crisis has made it much more difficult for everyone to stay healthy. Over the last few years, the Massachusetts Smart Growth Alliance has pursued a healthy aging agenda with grant support from the Tufts Health Plan Foundation. With this new project, that work is expanded.

“Decades of discriminatory housing, transportation, land-use policy and economic disinvestment have resulted in residential segregation by income, race, and ethnicity and created disparities that impact the health and well-being of people living in America’s cities,” said Stacey Barbas, senior program officer with the Kresge Foundation Health Program.

MSGA is a coalition comprised of the Conservation Law Foundation, Massachusetts Public Health Association, Citizens Housing and Planning Association, Massachusetts Association of Community Development Corporations, American Society of Architects-Massachusetts Chapter, Metropolitan Area Planning Council, Local Initiatives Support Corporation-Boston, and Environmental League of Massachusetts.

The Massachusetts Smart Growth Alliance works to protect critical natural resources and working landscapes; increase housing and transportation choices; promote healthy environments and climate resiliency; and support equitable community development. Our principal goal is to create more vibrant, racially diverse, mixed-income communities with good access to jobs, transportation, and open space. We believe that low-income and minority residents should have the power to shape the future of their community and benefit from its development.