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Outside the Box: Insurance companies in housing?

March 5th, 2014

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Joining a growing number of businesses focused on mission-related investing, UnitedHealth Group, the nation’s largest medical insurer, has recently invested $150 million to build low-income housing in a dozen states. UnitedHealth’s big push into housing isn’t charity, although the investment also brings financial benefits (in the form of tax credits). National studies show that individuals without stable homes are sick more often, have more undiagnosed illnesses and are more likely to wind up seeking expensive care in emergency departments. That’s expensive for insurance companies, for patients and for the general, who pay the price in higher premiums and taxes. The company derives benefits from it, too, including tax credits. Joining a handful of other socially motivated companies, UnitedHealth Group Inc. has committed $50 million into the Greater Minnesota Housing Fund, to construct hundreds of low-income housing units in Minnesota and the Upper Midwest. The businesses provide the equity capital to finance low-income housing projects, and, in return, are awarded federal tax credits for 15 years. UnitedHealth Group joins the ranks of a growing number of health care providers that recognize the link between stable housing and positive health outcomes. Insurer Medica, for example, is in the early stages of a partnership with a local community based organization addressing homelessness in which it offers rental assistance, health care services and case management to Medica members with histories of homelessness. The program now serves 49 people in Minnesota, with a goal of reaching 90 people. Until 2008, banks were the main investors in affordable housing developments financed with tax credits. But the foreclosure crisis and recession has tightened lending and derailed capital investment plans.  As the economy has improved, new players, including Google, Verizon, Liberty Mutual and Allstate, have entered the affordable housing market. Would this model work in Nevada?

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