LISC has invested deeply in the health and wellbeing of people in the places where we work for 40 years. But we’re upping the ante. President and CEO Maurice A. Jones calls on partners to join us in upending health disparities through tailored investments in communities, and designing a plan to assess the health outcomes of our broad work in economic development, housing, safety and financial stability.
The first time I ever left this country was to study for a summer in England on a university scholarship. For someone who’d grown up on a farm in a town of 1,200 in southern Virginia, it was a transformative and exhilarating experience!
More than three decades later, I still think about a message I received at each stop on the London subway, as a voice came over the speakers cautioning those getting on and off. “Mind the gap,” it said, in an attempt to prevent travelers from hurting themselves or others.
That warning resonated with me this year as I travelled around America, visiting LISC offices and partners and viewing the incredible development work being done in our communities. In almost every place, I have seen a gap that arguably represents one of the greatest risks to American competitiveness: a life-expectancy gap.
Pick almost any metropolitan area in our country and you will find 10, 15 or 20 years’ difference in life expectancies, depending on where people live. Richmond, VA, one of my favorite cities, offers a vivid example. A baby growing up in the middle-class neighborhood of Westover Hills will likely live to be 83, while a baby growing up in Gilpin, five miles to the east, will likely live to be 63. Similar gaps exist in Detroit, Trenton, Tulsa, Phoenix—and the list goes on. In America today, zip codes are the most reliable predictors of how long one may live.
Why? Because about 80 percent of what determines a person’s length and quality of life happens outside of a doctor’s office, clinic or hospital. Educational opportunity, economic stability, neighborhood safety, availability of recreational facilities and access to fresh, healthy food overwhelmingly shape a person’s well-being and health. Across our country, zip codes predict one’s access to quality jobs, good schools, safe streets and quality housing. Which means that zip codes predict life expectancy.
For almost 40 years, LISC has been working with partners to catalyze opportunity across this land. Through provision of capital, technical assistance, and public policy work, we have helped to build: 366,000 units of affordable housing; 61 million square feet of community facilities like day care centers, schools, recreational facilities and arts centers; and hundreds of grocery stores and healthcare facilities.
Additionally, we have helped residents and law enforcement in 80 communities work as teams to reduce crime around hotspots by as much as 40 percent. We also have been working with community groups to place thousands of people in jobs, and improve the net income, net worth and credit of thousands of others.
These efforts have been helping to close the life expectancy gap for many years. And they have equipped LISC with the experience, expertise, and a track record to do even more and do it more intentionally with health care partners.
Today, we are announcing our commitment to include fighting the life expectancy gap as one of the central goals of our deployment of more than $10 billion over the next 10 years in underinvested urban and rural communities. Better health won’t be just a collateral benefit of our community transformation work. It will be a priority.
We’ll be creating new funds and investment vehicles. We will continue to recruit talent with health expertise to our boards and staff. We will seek especially to expand our partnerships with enterprises in the healthcare industry to combine our financing and community-building muscles with their unique data, knowledge and other resources.
The work is already underway. In Toledo, OH, for example, LISC teamed up with ProMedica, a regional hospital system, to ensure that residents can access financial coaching and employment support along with nutritious food, quality housing, and all the other aspects of a healthy life. In Brockton, MA, LISC financed the building of a new health center side by side with a grocery store, enlivening a blighted commercial corridor, reducing crime, and creating new jobs, while taking direct aim at diabetes and heart disease in a community struggling with both.
In the years ahead, we will be pursuing more projects tied to critical health challenges, from asthma and diabetes to violence and mental health. This is the kind of problem-solving and innovating that LISC has excelled at in thousands of communities across America.
But we know that’s not enough. We will also track our progress, applying existing metrics and new data tools to assess outcomes and hold ourselves accountable. As we evaluate the health results from our work in economic development, affordable housing, education and safety, we will share what we learn with others attempting to grow their own efforts.
We hear the voice inviting us to mind the gap. We embrace the call. We are committed to building a future where your zip code determines where you receive your mail—not your life expectancy.
Won’t you join us on this journey?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Maurice A. Jones, President & CEO, LISC
Prior to joining LISC, Maurice was the Secretary of Commerce for the Commonwealth of Virginia, where he managed 13 state agencies focused on the economic needs in his native state. Before that, he was second in command at the U.S. Dept. of HUD, serving as deputy secretary in charge of operations. He has also been Commissioner of Virginia’s Dept. of Social Services and Deputy Chief of Staff to then-Gov. Mark Warner. At the U.S. Treasury Dept. during the Clinton Administration, he managed the CDFI fund. His private sector experience includes top positions at the Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, a Richmond law firm and a private philanthropy investing in community-based efforts to benefit children in Washington, D.C.