Access to safe and affordable housing is one of the greatest barriers to better health, as an estimated 14.5 million Americans lack access to stable housing today.
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 people’s health and that of their community.
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.
This is why at UnitedHealthcare we are redefining healthy living in the United States, including here in Wisconsin, by removing social barriers such as housing. Madison is a great example for the rest of the nation, where we just celebrated the opening of a new $20.3 million affordable-housing community, Harmony @Grandview Commons. Residents were welcomed into six two-story structures with 28 two-bedroom and 66 three-bedroom homes.
The new community was built on a vacant lot located in the Grandview Commons neighborhood, just a few miles from downtown Madison. Onsite amenities for residents include a community clubhouse with a library, computer lab and meeting space, fitness center, playground, picnic area with grills, and private garages. Residents have access to various services and programs such as health and nutrition classes, higher-education courses, financial training and after-school activities, among others.
Project funding and key development partners include the Wisconsin Housing & Economic Development Authority (WHEDA) and UnitedHealthcare through a partnership with Cinnaire and Minnesota Equity Fund (MEF).
WHEDA provided $11 million in both construction and permanent financing for the new community, and UnitedHealthcare was the largest private-sector investor, providing $5.4 million in equity funding.
Being a collaborative partner requires smart public-private partnerships with care providers, governments and community agencies, and Harmony @Grandview Commons is a great example of how local investments can improve the health of communities where we all live and work.
Since 2011, UnitedHealthcare has invested $384 million — $12 million in Wisconsin alone — to help finance and build more than 70 affordable-housing communities in 16 states, creating more than 3,400 new homes. These investments recognize the importance of putting just as much attention and resources on the social determinants that influence well-being as we do the medical.
Addressing the social determinants of health is a systemic challenge. It’s difficult enough to think about a job, school or your family’s health if you don’t have reliable housing. Affordable housing is as much a health issue as access to health care services. 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.
Ellen Sexton is CEO of UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Wisconsin.
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