Health, Healthcare and Public Housing, By Earnest R. Burke, III & Carl S. Richie, Jr.

Imagine a kid falling on the edge of a metal bed frame and slicing a three inch gash in his lower back and not receiving any medical treatment.  Imagine a 16 year old kid failing his written driving exam because he failed the vision exam. Imagine a 25 year young adult getting his teeth cleaned for the first time in his life.  I just described myself, Carl S. Richie, Jr., a former public housing resident from the Rosewood Public Housing Development in Wichita Falls,   Texas and now a Commissioner with the Housing Authority for the City of Austin (HACA).  I understand firsthand how the lack of knowledge of and access to affordable healthcare can negatively impact one’s quality of life.  Although my family lacked access to affordable healthcare it did not impede my ability to succeed in school and become a productive member of the workforce.  But not every child can tough it out as I did and nor should they.


When it comes to health and healthcare, public housing agencies should have their hands full. Yet there is very little discussion about healthcare issues during our public housing meetings. Initially, Commissioners were tasked with the agency’s bricks and mortar program, next public safety and now self-sufficiency.  Can we also take on resident health issues? The question should not be “can we”, but instead “when and how”?  Our public housing residents will not become self-sufficient if they are too ill to go to work.  Children cannot excel in school and break the poverty cycle if they cannot see the words they are reading or if they are more concerned about coping with the pain from an ear or tooth ache rather the learning.  Illnesses such as these lead to high absenteeism, which is the major reason for children to fail academically. More than 50% of our residents stay in public housing over 5 years. The residents’ self- sufficiency is not all we have to be concerned with, it’s also the economic vitality of our communities. Healthcare costs and absenteeism at school and work are negatively impacting our economy. According to the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, current lifestyle behaviors are expected to increase health care costs to 32.5 billion by the year 2030.


Public housing agencies have to address the disparities in health amongst the population we serve and the associated rising healthcare cost. HACA has partnered with Family Eldercare. A local aging services agency, that provides high-level and intensive case management services to HACA’s elderly public housing residents. Through the federal Administration on Aging’s Community Innovations in Aging In Place Grant, Family Eldercare has had three full time Service Coordinators serving HACA’s Elderly/Disabled designated properties who coordinate programs that focus health and wellness, evidence-based health practices, volunteerism and community building. In the three years of the program, approximately 180 older adults/elderly have been served in the various programs under this collaborative grant partnership, and approximately 60 individuals have been able to continue to live independently and age in place though connection to caregiver, housekeeping, health, durable medical supply, medication management, support groups, meal and other services.  Another 120 have participated primarily in exercise, brain boosters and volunteer programming supporting their health and wellness.


HACA also partners with Goodwill and the Children’s Optimal Health (COH). Goodwill provides job training and coaching to persons with disabilities. COH is a collective leadership initiative to ensure that every child in Central Texas becomes healthy, productive adult.  At the drafting of this article HACA has entered into exploratory discussions with Sendero Health Plans about the creation of a Kids Camp and providing annual back to school physicals for public housing youth.


Additionally, The Plano Housing Authority, PHA, Plano, Texas, has implemented a program titled, The Plano Housing Authority Health Care Initiative. This initiative provides basic Adult limited Primary Care for (Colds, Flu, Hypertension, on-set Diabetes) and provides over the counter or prescription medication at a low cost to PHA low income residents.


The Plano Housing Authority Health Care Initiative is the result of a partnership with the Collin County Adult Clinic and provides access for Health Care services through a referral program administered by the Collin County Adult Clinic. Local Health Care organizations provide low cost Health Care services to PHA low income residents.


The Plano Housing Authority is a strong advocate of the Family Self Sufficiency Program and promotes community partnership involvement in Life Skills training coupled with educational pursuits to assist families in making a smooth transition into becoming self-sufficient and productive citizens.  


We plan to write a follow up on this article at a later date providing an update on HACA’s programs and Plano Housing Authority’s Health Care Initiative.


No public housing resident, young or old, should go without proper healthcare. 











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