Health impact assessments can help healthcare and housing professionals prevent falls and improve mental health in older adults, according to new issue briefs from the Pew Charitable Trusts. They also can help address public health issues such as asthma, diabetes and obesity, the authors note.

The briefs draw from research from the National Center for Healthy Housing, the Health Impact Project and the Center for Housing Policy.

Such assessments use data, expertise and public input to help identify how proposed laws, regulations, projects, policies and programs will affect public health, especially for vulnerable populations such as older adults and those with low incomes. They can help reduce unit turnover and associated costs, according to the authors, who cite previously published research of older adults living in public housing.

“Two recent studies found that residents, particularly the elderly, had health improvements, including fewer falls and better mental health, after their homes were renovated using green building practices, which focus on conserving resources and supporting health through design, construction, and operations,” they write. “Such efforts have the potential to enable residents to stay healthier and remain in their homes longer, which may decrease the costs of administration, advertising, repair, and lost income associated with tenant turnover.”

Also, the report says, by incorporating a health focus into the construction, rehabilitation and maintenance of properties, housing professionals also may enhance the overall marketability and economic value of their developments.

To get started, the authors advise, housing professionals must determine whether a health impact assessment is appropriate for their situation — “public housing programs, housing choice voucher programs, project-based rental assistance, low-income housing tax credits, code enforcement and inspection policies and zoning decisions may all be suitable for HIA.” They also recommend attending a training session on how to conduct an assessment, contacting national experts and organizations that support practitioners who conduct the assessments, and accessing data sources and online tools.

“When used appropriately, HIAs can help housing officials and public health professionals improve public health outcomes, lower healthcare costs for families and local governments, create healthier housing and communities, and better our built environment, while maintaining strong financial stewardship of local funds,” the authors conclude.