Housing is the Prescription for NJ’s Communities, says Health and Community Development Practitioners
Summit discusses solutions for racial, health disparities amid pandemic recovery


Members of the health and community development sectors convened this week to discuss social determinants of heath impacting New Jersey residents in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Over 200 attendees participated virtually in the fifth annual Healthy Homes and Communities Summit hosted by the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey (the Network) to share resources and solutions addressing the racial and economic gaps exacerbated by the public health crisis.

“The link between health outcomes and housing are well-documented. We know that access to safe, affordable homes is a key element of good health," said Staci Berger, president and chief executive officer of the Network. "Before the pandemic, we launched an initiative to address the connection between NJ’s racial health disparities and housing security. A Black mom who rents is five times more likely than a White male tenant to be evicted, which has devastating and long-term consequences on the health and well-being of families of color. The COVID crisis brought these inequities into sharp focus and heightened the need for resources and policies to create more homes people can afford.”

Addressing health disparities for women and babies of color, New Jersey First Lady Tammy Murphy provided the latest information on the campaign to improve NJ’s maternal mortality rates. Nurture NJ is a statewide effort to address infant and maternal mortality and ensure equity in care and in outcomes for mothers and infants of all ethnic groups. The campaign aims to reduce maternal mortality by 50 percent over five years and eliminate racial disparities in birth outcomes. Governor Murphy’s proposed fiscal year 2022 state budget includes funding to develop a pilot program for housing support with targeted wrap-around services for eligible NJ pregnant mothers.

“We know that housing is the most critical issue affecting the health and well-being of mothers,” said the First Lady. “To underscore the importance of safe and affordable housing, this funding was included as a must in our year one plan…in order to create foundational change. Safe, affordable and stable housing is a basic and critical need that must be obtained before one is able to even begin to address anything else. A place to live means a reliable place to sleep, to cook and to rest. If you don’t know where you’re going to lay your head down at night or have a safe and healthy space to call home, it is virtually impossible to have a healthy pregnancy.”

Focusing on health and housing in the era of COVID-19, the 2021 Healthy Homes and Communities Summit featured sessions on homelessness, addressing disproportionate health outcomes experienced by Black and Brown communities, COVID-19's impact on multi-generational households, building partnerships between the health and community development sectors, as well as renter rights and empowerment.

“We can’t look at things like renter versus landlord; if your landlord doesn’t succeed then you’re not going to succeed as a renter. Everyone has to succeed in order for housing to exist,” said NJ Assemblywoman Britnee N. Timberlake (LD-34). “Housing is the foundation; it is the center on the wheel in which all other spokes come from. Being healthy all starts with the home.”

Building partnerships between NJ’s nonprofit community development sector and health care providers has been the crux of the Healthy Homes and Communities Summit since its inception in 2016. A leading national voice in this effort has been Dr. Samuel Ross, retired President of Bon Secours Baltimore Health System and Chief Community Health Officer of Bon Secours Mercy Health, one of the largest health care systems in the nation. Dr. Ross has been responsible for a vast network of community outreach divisions that focus on positively impacting outcomes that influence the social determinants of health, i.e. affordable housing, education, job skills, behavioral health, substance abuse and rehabilitation. He has been a proponent of including housing in Community Health Needs Assessments (CHNA), a requirement of tax-exempt hospitals as a result of the Affordable Care Act aimed at improving community health.

“If the community doesn't see you as a trusted partner then you're not going to have any long term sustainable success,” said Dr. Ross on the building partnerships with health systems. “We need to hold all of our health systems accountable as it relates to community investments that allow us to achieve the goals of CHNAs and address the needs that have been identified.”

This year’s event was sponsored by Valley National Bank, TD Bank, and NJ’s Clean Energy Program and hosted via Zoom.

For more information on the Healthy Communities and Homes Summit, visit

About the Housing and Community Development Network of NJ
The Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey is the statewide association of more than 250 community development corporations, individuals and other organizations that support the creation of affordable homes, economic opportunities, and strong communities. For more information on the Network, visit www.hcdnnj.org.