As the nation’s population ages and hospitals face pressure to reduce the number of patients that are re-admitted, health-care providers are looking for new ideas, including working with developers to build affordable housing, according to veteran developers and finance experts at AHF Live: The Affordable Housing Developers' Summit.

Conversations are happening that didn’t happen five years ago, said Michelle Norris, senior vice president of business development and public policy at National Church Residences (NCR) in Columbus, Ohio.

“Pressure on the health-care side is starting to make them turn and say,  'Housing is significant and important and a key player,'” she said. “That can either scare us off and we can all run and hide and say ‘No, we just want to be housers,’ or we can embrace this trend and say, ‘We can be significant players and learn to be smart about it.’”

It was the first time that the “Emerging Trends: Housing and Health Care” session was presented at the conference.

Norris presented examples of recent NCR developments that bring together housing and health care in Ohio. In one case, the nonprofit is involved in a complicated conversion of a building into a development that will serve two populations—independent low-income seniors and the assisted-living low-income seniors. Residents will be able to move within the building depending on the care needed.

NCR has also taken people who had been in nursing homes and moved them into its assisted-living program. A study revealed that this effort is saving nearly 50 percent of the costs of having someone in skilled nursing, significantly reducing Medicaid costs, Norris said.

Volunteers of America (VOA) is another leading affordable housing developer that operates health-care facilities in multiple states and is finding ways to incorporate housing with health care, said Patrick Sheridan, senior vice president of housing development at VOA

In one case, VOA included space for a health clinic when it was building Terraces on Tulane, a seniors housing development in New Orleans. The group then looked for a health-care partner to provide services at the site, eventually teaming with Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center School of Nursing.

A key is finding a health-care provider who is interesting in working with you, Sheridan said.

Panelists also pointed out that hospitals operate large campuses and often own land that could potentially be used for a housing development.

Finance partners are also recognizing new housing models that have a strong wellness component. Katherine B. Mazzocco, senior vice president, community development lending, at BMO Harris Bank, highlighted Heartland Housing’s 89-unit Harvest Commons Apartments in Chicago, which emphasizes healthy living by operating an onsite urban farm and kitchen.

The trend is to be more cost efficient and more proactive with healthy living and wellness, she said.