Student Spotlight: Championing Affordable Housing

Troy Nash, family business owner, makes big moves in his home state of Missouri

Affordable housing is an essential social determinant of health, yet millions of Americans do not have access to affordable housing options. We spoke with Dr. Troy Nash, an affordable housing real estate developer and Brown University Online MPH student, who is working alongside his daughter to increase affordable housing options for individuals living in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods in Kansas City, Missouri and across the country.

In the following interview Nash discusses his background, what inspired him to pursue public health, why he’s passionate about affordable housing and how he’s applying what he’s learned in the Online MPH program to his work.

Can you tell me about your background and what inspired you to get involved in health?

Growing up, my mother had six children and struggled herself. By the time I was born, she had overcome some of her challenges, yet we were still living in abject poverty in roach and rat-infested Section 8 housing. For me, the Air Force was a way out of that environment. 

Once I joined the Air Force, my life changed. From there, I got involved with a great number of things, all of which dealt with helping people. This manifested as service in many community-based projects. I have been elected to public office twice and worked in the community where I grew up - where people like me had been written off. I’ve worked with child care, the elderly, foster grandparent programs and picked up trash off the streets. I’ve done it all. 

I also served on the board of directors for the Samuel Rogers Community Health Center, which was the first federally recognized community health center in Missouri and the fourth in the United States. Back in the day, African Americans weren’t allowed to seek health care at many of the community hospitals. They had to rely on their own hospitals and community health centers. Dr. Rogers founded this health center near a public housing project and delivered four generations of Black babies in our community – he is a legend.  

After that, I was hired to build a new state-of-the-art, federally qualified health center. The opportunity to serve on the board of directors with Samuel Rogers and work with him directly before he died led me to fall in love with community health. It made me want to change the world. 

Why is affordable housing an important public health issue to you? 

I am passionate about not only providing clean, safe, affordable, housing but also about reducing mortality rates for people of color. I am passionate about affordable housing particularly because I grew up in Section 8 Housing—I know that if your home life is unstable, everything in your life is going to be unstable. 

I once took my daughter to see where I grew up and she was like, is this for real? Because she did not grow up in those same circumstances. 

I’ve dedicated my life to affordable housing, and all of its issues. It's an extension of my personality at this point. It is my purpose and what I’m meant to do. I am so glad that my daughter feels the same way and has developed a passion for working on affordable housing. 

Your passion led you to start your own company, The Nash Group, to make a bigger impact on the affordable housing market within your community. Can you tell me more about your company and what projects you are currently working on?

The Nash Group is a 100% minority-owned and operated real estate affordable housing development firm. My daughter, Arielle Nash, and I are the owners. Our main focus is affordable housing but we also do infrastructure consulting, housing studies, financial feasibility and market analysis.

We have two projects here in Kansas City that are 100% affordable. When we say affordable, we look at anywhere between 30% to 60% of the area's median income. We provide some units for those at 30% and some units for those at 60%. One of our projects is 101 units and the other is 57 units. For these, we were able to go to the city, the state, and our local transit authority and argue for them from a public health perspective, understanding that affordable housing is an essential social determinant of health.

What was the moment you realized that you wanted to pursue your master's in public health to take your career to the next level?

My work with Samuel Rogers led to a partnership between my company, the Nash Group, and a federally qualified health center based in the heart of north St. Louis called CareSTL Health. We were able to come to terms as co-developers to create the Ville Wellness Campus in one of the most underserved and economically deprived areas in the entire country. When I got a call from a woman by the name of Angela Clabon, an African-American CEO of a community health center in Saint Louis to work on this project, I was all over it.

As I began to work through acquiring the land and doing all the things from a real estate perspective, I started bumping into people holding an MPH degree. They're all very smart and very technical. When I would talk about affordable housing they would say, that's a key social determinant of health. I thought, hmm this is interesting. But with my work and the way I live, there was no way I could be relegated to a campus.

Then I discovered the Online MPH program at Brown University and applied. I have been loving every single bit of it.

“ I am passionate about affordable housing particularly because I grew up in Section 8 Housing—I know that if your home life is unstable, everything in your life is going to be unstable.  ”

Troy Nash, J.D. Co-founder, The Nash Group

How have you applied what you’ve learned in the Online MPH program to your career?

As the program exposes me to each skill, I'm instantly applying them to my work. I feel like I know what I’m talking about when I'm writing grants and include the things I’m learning in my reports, findings, research, and “real-world” activities on a weekly basis.

For example, It’s given me a new language to speak with organizations like the Missouri Foundation for Health. It allows us to come in and speak directly to their health concerns about housing factors, like child care, mental health and behavioral health. We also just closed on one of our projects today in Kansas City. It's in the middle of a gentrified neighborhood. We were able to convince the state and the city about this project using data for public health.

Brown has given me the best arguments that I could make for advocacy within my community, which has given me confidence, frankly, in this space and allowed us to produce better projects.