As there is broader consensus around how the lack of adequate housing, nutrition, education and transportation has an adverse impact upon a person’s 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 it is investing $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 has a $40 million revitalization plan at the Post Oak Station housing community in the Riverbend neighborhood of Columbus. The city experienced a 20% increase in evictions in December 2020, according to a CVS Health news release. The $18.9 million brings CVS Health’s total investment in affordable housing to $1.3 billion over the last 20 years. Since 2020, the retail giant has invested $44.6 million in affordable housing in Columbus and $54.5 million across Ohio.
CVS Health isn’t the only retail company to invest in affordable housing. Amazon launched the Housing Equity Fund in 2021, which is providing 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 a $23 million commitment to Seattle in June. Earlier this year, Kaiser Permanente increased its pledge to $400 million in affordable housing initiatives.
Efforts by CVS Health and others to address housing challenges is not occurring in a vacuum. There’s a strong connection between health and affordable housing. Low-income families that struggle with their rent, mortgage or utility bills are less likely to have a usual source of medical care and are more likely to put off treatment. Severely cost-burdened renters are 23% more likely to have difficulty buying food than those with less-severe cost burdens.
“The housing crisis occurring across the United States is in fact a healthcare crisis and affordable housing is the first step to better health and well-being in one’s life,” said Mike Avotins, east mid-America market president at Aetna, which is CVS Health’s insurance business. “When someone doesn’t have safe, stable shelter that fits within their budget, it puts them in a worse position to take care of their health and manage chronic disease.”
Currently, Post Oak Station has 26 two-story apartment buildings and a one-story clubhouse that was built in 1971. Woonsocket, Rhode Island-based CVS Health’s commitment will help rehabilitate 142 rental homes in the community to include new furnaces, air conditioning units, appliances and water heaters. Bathrooms, kitchens and electrical systems will also be updated.
In addition to the renovations, the project will add eight new affordable rental homes and a childcare center, which will be operated by Columbus Early Learning Center. The childcare center will offer year-round childcare services for kids of low- and moderate-income parents, and will help alleviate a daycare desert on the city’s west side, Avotins said.
That is something that the president of CVS Health’s partner in the project welcomes.
“The current childcare market in Franklin County, unfortunately, fails too many families, children, and businesses,” Charles Hillman, CMHA president and CEO, said in a statement. “We know proximity to childcare is important, especially for parents in lower-wage jobs who often have less flexibility and control over their schedules and who may have to rely on public transportation to get to childcare and work.”
Aside from addressing factors not directly related to health, CVS Health is also providing direct healthcare services through its Project Health program in the Columbus area. Through December, residents can receive free screenings for blood pressure, cholesterol, glucose level and body mass index. These services will be offered at CVS Pharmacy locations and community organizations.
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