Up to 200 individuals per year in Georgia can live longer, healthier lives by steering affordable housing toward higher-opportunity areas of the state, according to a recently released study.

The new Health Impact Assessment of the 2015 Qualified Allocation Plan for Low-income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTCs) in Georgia digs into how the state’s allocation of housing credits can be strengthened to support health-promoting affordable housing developments.

The report by the Georgia Health Policy Center at Georgia State University comes at a time when many state housing finance agencies are increasingly conscious about the location of LIHTC properties. Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the concept of disparate impact in fair housing cases, meaning that a state’s allocation of LIHTCs could violate the Fair Housing Act if it has a discriminatory effect, regardless of intent.

Through research and stakeholder input, the Georgia Health Policy Center study identifies opportunities to affect health outcomes by altering the scoring criteria to allocate LIHTCs. The key findings focus on strengthening connections between LIHTC properties and their surrounding communities.

Researchers analyzed the location of LIHTC properties, and they took a deep dive into public health data, says Michelle Rushing, research associate.

Georgia allocates approximately $22 million in LIHTCs each year. Of the nearly 8,300 family housing units developed with LIHTC funding over the past decade, 70% have been built in areas the Georgia Department of Public Health identifies as having the lowest socioeconomic status and the highest rates of premature death in the states.

Researchers were able to project that if the state’s qualified allocation plan (QAP) for awarding credits could consistently steer affordable housing developments toward lower-risk demographic clusters, it could potentially save 200 lives per year. Rushing notes that this is an estimate with many factors at play.

The Georgia Department of Community Affairs (DCA), the agency that oversees the state’s LIHTC program, has incorporated key recommendations into its 2015 QAP, including updating score criteria and increasing points for family properties that are near high-performing schools, says Philip Gilman, affordable housing program specialist at DCA.

The new scoring has a simpler structure that uses the College and Career Readiness Performance Index for K-12 levels. “From talking to developer stakeholders, they’re really excited about that, and they understand that education is a foundational piece of having a healthy community,” says James Dills, research associate.

The improvement in scoring increased the number of applicants claiming points in this category from eight in 2014 to 38 in 2015.

Looking forward, DCA is considering additional changes to the QAP, including the possibility of awarding points for quality early education in the future, Gilman says, pointing to an effort in the state to develop a rating system for early learning facilities. “That’s something we’re doing our homework on,” he says.