Keli Savage is associate vice president and head of impact strategy at CVS Health/Aetna, which has invested more than $1.6 billion in affordable housing since 1997, including $800 million in just the past five years. She discusses the firm’s housing work and approach.

Keli Savage
Keli Savage

What are you looking for in the developments you invest in?

We look to partner with vision-aligned developers and service providers who understand housing is health care, and the first step to improving an individual’s health and well-being is to have access to quality, safe, affordable housing. Cost-burdened households have much less to spend on necessities such as food, child care, transportation, and health care. When someone is struggling with these costs, especially the cost of housing—often the biggest expense—their health needs get put on the back burner.

Can you share any specific outcomes from your investments in housing?

In the past five years, the $800 million invested has helped create or preserve and renovate more than 20,000 affordable rental units, including 12,600 for families, 5,400 for seniors, and nearly 2,000 permanent supportive housing (PSH) units. [The PSH units serve] veterans; LGBTQ+ individuals in need of support; those experiencing homelessness; single-parent households; victims of domestic violence; young adults aging out of foster care; those with physical, intellectual, and/or developmental disabilities; those in need of mental health or substance abuse support; second-chance participants; victims of human trafficking; and other groups that may be facing challenges in their lives. Internal review of data has shown improved health outcomes and lowered heath care costs, including reduced ER visits and significantly decreased overall annual costs.

How did the COVID pandemic change your approach to investing in affordable housing?

The COVID pandemic highlighted and exacerbated the dire need for affordable housing across the country. Because of that, we saw the need to not only increase the amount we were investing annually but to pay close attention to what we were investing in, who we were investing with, and the programs and services being provided to the residents. We saw the need to look across our portfolio of assets and find way to go beyond housing in the local communities to begin to help address other factors negatively impacting health like access to care, food insecurity, transportation challenges, and ample opportunities for job training and employment.

What do you think will be the next trend or evolution in connecting health and housing?

I believe states will continue to evaluate their qualified allocation plans and increase incentives for developers to include health priorities in their development and rehabilitation opportunities. I envision a greater collaboration of payors and providers to evaluate at scale the significant positive impacts of affordable housing with supportive services on individual and community health and well-being. Lastly, I am hopeful we will see renewed bipartisan support promoting better integration of health and housing policy.