May 22, 2019

Commentary: Affordable Housing is a Path to Improving Health

Commentary by Rob Falkenberg, CEO of UnitedHealthcare of California.

Access to safe and affordable housing is one of the greatest barriers to better health — and nearly 14.5 million Americans lack access to stable housing.

In Los Angeles County, the statistics are just as striking. More than 50,000 individuals and family members are experiencing homelessness and the region faces a dire need for an additional 565,000 affordable homes to meet the existing demand of its lowest-income renters.

Rob Falkenberg, CEO of UnitedHealthcare of California.

Rob Falkenberg, CEO of UnitedHealthcare of California.

Navigating health care is about much more than just medical care. Eighty percent of what influences a person’s health happens outside the doctor’s office. Many national studies show that affordable housing has clear implications on the health of people and their communities.

It’s a consideration that may not always be top of mind when discussing how to reduce health care disparities and promote healthy lifestyles, but increasing access to affordable housing with on-site support services for residents warrants continued attention and innovative solutions.

This is why UnitedHealthcare is redefining what access to health care looks like in the United States by reducing social barriers such as housing.  The company recently surpassed $400 million in investments to help build 80 new affordable-housing communities across the country.

The initiative, which began in 2011, has impacted thousands of individuals and families in need of affordable housing, providing more than 4,500 new homes that can positively affect their well-being and quality of life.

In Los Angeles, UnitedHealthcare provided $12 million to build PATH Metro Villas, a 65-unit supportive housing development for formerly homeless individuals, by teaming up with PATH Ventures, Affirmed Housing Group and Enterprise Housing Credit Investments.

As the largest investor, we were drawn to PATH’s focus in four key areas: housing, health care, employment, and veteran services.  In addition to providing safe housing, residents also have access to counseling, case management offices, a veteran’s connections center, community rooms, and on-site support staffing.

Pursuing innovative approaches to address the social determinants of health doesn’t end there. UnitedHealthcare also partnered with the Hilton Foundation to invest $10 million to launch Los Angeles County’s Just in Reach housing initiative. This program, which is providing health-based lodging vouchers to 300 homeless people, is helping reduce jail recidivism and homelessness by providing supportive housing with counseling and training to improve their lives.

Being a collaborative partner requires smart public-private partnerships with care providers, governments and community agencies.  PATH Metro Villas and Just in Reach are just two examples of how local investments can improve the health of communities where we live and work.

It’s difficult to focus on your job, school or your family’s health if you don’t have reliable housing and a safe place to lay your head at night. But bringing together socially-minded organizations that understand the value of good health shows how public-private partnerships can succeed and help make a positive impact in our communities.

These investments recognize the importance of putting just as much attention and resources on the social determinants that influence well-being as we do on medical care.

For more on Rob Falkenberg and UnitedHealthCare: https://www.unitedhealthgroup.com/

https://www.linkedin.com/in/robert-c-falkenberg-b99a1033/

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