Groups ask IRS to reconsider community benefits guidelines on housing

Advocacy groups want the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to consider housing offered by not-for-profit hospitals as a legitimate community benefit without the current restrictions, AHA News Now has reported. Advocacy group Community Catalyst also has asked the IRS to allow hospitals to claim this as such a benefit on their 990 tax forms.

In a letter sent to Sunita Lough, an IRS commissioner who oversees the agency's tax exempt and government entities division, Community Catalyst Senior Advisor Jessica L. Curtis acknowledged that hospitals can claim their support of housing as a community benefit if they can demonstrate a need for housing services in their community, and so long as the housing services do not create a revenue stream or go toward marketing purposes that derive a greater benefit to the hospital than the community.

Housing can be vital to a hospital's community benefits program. A so-called medical-legal partnership involving Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center has helped children with asthma ensure their housing has regular air conditioning. And some hospitals try and connect homeless patients to permanent housing to try and reduce readmissions and improve their overall health.

However, the current IRS requirements may create a barrier for hospitals to invest in housing, "even if it is merely a barrier of perception--that makes a hospital's investment in housing and other community health initiatives a harder internal sell," Curtis wrote.

Curtis urged the IRS to consider revising its guidelines so that "the definition of 'community health improvement services' ... clearly encompasses hospitals' efforts to address the social and economic determinants of health--including efforts to improve housing."

The American Hospital Association and the Catholic Health Association have previously asked the IRS to reconsider its community benefits guidelines on housing as well, AHA News Now reported.

To learn more:
- read the AHA News Now article
- check out the Community Catalyst letter (.pdf)