Three miles from Kaiser Permanente’s national headquarters, an apartment building in a diverse neighborhood has provided affordable housing to residents of Oakland’s San Antonio neighborhood for years.
Kaiser Permanente recently announced that its first impact investment of $5.2 million from its $200 million Thriving Communities Fund enabled the purchase of the property, known as Kensington Gardens, ensuring future upgrades and that it remains affordable to residents. The investment is part of Kaiser Permanente’s comprehensive community health strategy that recognizes that stable housing is essential to good health.
Monique, who has lived in a one-bedroom apartment in Kensington Gardens since 2012, said she has had health issues. “I just want to make sure I can still work, have a roof over my head, and not worry about possibly being homeless, which would make me more ill,” said Monique, who asked that her last name not be used.
Two additional bold initiatives
Kaiser Permanente is investing in the apartment building in partnership with Enterprise Community Partners and the East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation. At a press conference with Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf on January 15, 2019, Kaiser Permanente Chairman and CEO Bernard J. Tyson also announced two other major initiatives.
Acknowledging that the housing crisis is a significant issue in many other parts of the country, Kaiser Permanente announced that it will partner with Enterprise to launch a $100 million national loan fund. The fund will create and preserve multi-unit housing for low-income residents throughout Kaiser Permanente’s eight regions.
Tyson also announced that Kaiser Permanente is partnering with city, county and nonprofit partners in Oakland to find housing and vital services for more than 500 older, homeless residents who have one or more chronic conditions.
“Our hope and our plan and our outcome will be to solve this problem and to together develop solutions for permanent housing and the wraparound services these residents need,” Tyson said at the press event. “Obviously, it’s major work that’s in front of us. It ties into who we are and what we are about as Kaiser Permanente.”
Kaiser Permanente Northern California President Janet Liang described the work as audacious.
“One might even assume that it would be impossible to do,” she said. “But we’re here to tell you that at Kaiser Permanente, it is possible.”
“This is the biggest thing we’ve done to address health inequity as an organization in my 23 years with Kaiser Permanente,” said Richard S. Isaacs, MD, CEO and executive director of The Permanente Medical Group. “There’s no question that this will have an impact on the health of the entire community.”
Redefining social responsibility
Rising housing costs and homelessness are an issue in many Kaiser Permanente communities. Homelessness in Alameda County (which includes Oakland, California) increased nearly 40 percent between 2015 and 2017, and 6 of the top 10 U.S. cities with the largest homeless populations are in Kaiser Permanente service areas. That includes Los Angeles, Seattle, San Diego, San Jose, Washington, D.C. and San Francisco.
In Oakland, Mayor Schaaf said there’s not enough time or money to “build our way out of the problem.” But she said converting market-rate apartments into protected affordable housing in neighborhoods on the brink of gentrification is a promising new strategy. She went on to praise Kaiser Permanente’s work to help find solutions to homelessness.
Traditionally, when corporations think about social responsibility, they think about a volunteer project here or there, Schaaf said. “This is the next generation of corporate responsibility, right here.”