Michael Doody remembers some things about his Columbus, Ohio neighborhood in the 1990s: “Gunshots, helicopters, thefts, smashed out windows, burglaries, robberies, assaults and murders.” In addition to the crime, roughly 50 percent of the children were living in poverty in this area, known as Southern Orchards.
During the mid-20th century, construction of an interstate through the middle of the community separated many of the neighborhood’s majority black residents from job opportunities in downtown Columbus. But things began to change in 2008. Nationwide Children’s Hospital, located in Southern Orchards, began to invest in the neighborhood’s homes.”Most were in such bad repair,” says Doody, a 62-year-old fraud investigator. “But they came in and they worked within those homes and they didn’t tear them down.”
The hospital’s initiative was called Healthy Neighborhoods Healthy Families (HNHF). In partnership with the city and community groups like the United Way and a local Methodist congregation, HNHF renovated vacant homes for resale, built new affordable housing, and wrote checks to homeowners to fund renovations on their homes.
But why is a hospital getting into the housing business? A body of evidence points to a link between living in areas of concentrated poverty and health. It’s something doctors at Nationwide Children’s were seeing first-hand. “It’s remarkably frustrating as a physician to see patients over and over and over again from these very high-risk communities,” says Dr. Kelly Kelleher, director of the Center for Innovation in Pediatric Practice at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. “Houses that are falling apart, plumbing problems, mold, rat infestations, violence. You see 25 kids a day, and maybe two-thirds of them are in these desperate straits.”