As there is a wider consensus on how lack of adequate housing, nutrition, education and transportation adversely affects human health, more and more organizations are trying to address the social determinants of health.
The latest announcement comes from CVS Health, which announced last week that invested $18.9 million to build and renovate 150 affordable housing units in Columbus, Ohio.
The project is in partnership with the Columbus Metropolitan Housing Authority (CHMA), which is planning a $40 million revitalization of the Post Oak Station residential community in Columbus’ Riverbend neighborhood. The city saw a 20 percent increase in evictions in December 2020, according to CVS Health news release. The $18.9 million brings CVS Health’s total investment in affordable housing to $1.3 billion over the past 20 years. Since 2020, the retail giant has invested $44.6 million in affordable housing in Columbus and $54.5 million in Ohio.
CVS Health isn’t the only retail company investing in affordable housing. Amazon is launching a Housing Equity Fund in 2021 that will provide more than $2 billion in below-market loans and grants to preserve and create more than 20,000 affordable homes, according to its website. The program announced $23 million commitment to Seattle in June. Earlier this year, Kaiser Permanente increased its promise to $400 million in affordable housing initiatives.
Efforts by CVS Health and others to address housing challenges are not happening in a vacuum. There is a strong relationship between health and affordable housing. Low-income families struggling with their rent, mortgage or utility bills are less likely to have a regular source of medical care and are more likely to delay treatment. Heavily burdened renters are 23% more likely to have difficulty buying food than those with less burdensome expenses.
“The housing crisis unfolding in the United States is actually a health care crisis, and affordable housing is the first step to better health and well-being in a person’s life,” said Mike Avotins, market president for East Mid America at Aetna, which is CVS Health Insurance Business. “When someone doesn’t have safe, stable shelter that fits their budget, it puts them in a worse position to take care of their health and manage chronic disease.”
Post Oak Station currently has 26 two-story apartment buildings and a one-story clubhouse that was built in 1971. Woonsocket, Rhode Island-based CVS HealthThe commitment will help rehabilitate 142 rental homes in the community to include new furnaces, air conditioners, appliances and water heaters. Bathrooms, kitchens and electrical systems will also be updated.
In addition to the renovation, eight new affordable rental units and a child care center will be added to the community, which will be operated by the Columbus Early Learning Center. The childcare center will offer year-round childcare services to low- and moderate-income parents and help alleviate the daycare desert on the city’s west side, Avotins said.
That’s something the president of CVS Health’s partner in the project welcomes.
“The current child care market in Franklin County is unfortunately failing too many families, children and businesses,” Charles Hillman, president and CEO of CMHA, said in a statement. “We know that proximity to childcare is important, especially for parents in lower paid jobs who often have less flexibility and control over their schedules and may have to rely on public transport to get to childcare and work.”
In addition to addressing factors not directly related to health, CVS Health also provides direct health services through its Columbus Area Health Program Project. Through December, residents can get free screenings for blood pressure, cholesterol, glucose level and body mass index. These services will be available at CVS Pharmacy locations and community organizations.
Photo: Lolon, Getty Images