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Healthy Homes

Healthy Homes are Dry, Clean, Safe, Well Ventilated, Pest Free, Chemical Free and Well Maintained

Is your home
making you sick?
    More and more health professionals are making the connection between bad health and bad housing. This month HUD's office features an article connecting some of these dots based on studies of the "Move to Opportunity" (MTO) program in Chicago. Under MTO public housing residents were given the opportunity to move to suburban and mixed income communities. In examining the findings after 10-15 years, the National Bureau of Economic Research concluded:
  • MTO improved physical health: adults offered housing vouchers have a lower prevalence of severe obesity and diabetes compared to controls (as reported in a 2011 article in the New England Journal of Medicine). Adults offered housing vouchers also report fewer physical limitations, but self-reported health status and rates of hypertension and health-related risk behaviors are similar across groups.
  • MTO improved mental health in areas such as depression and psychological distress.
  • [However] MTO had little to no effect on economic self-sufficiency.
    HUD'soffice of Policy Development & Research continues to "mine" the MTO data to learn more about health impacts and to fund new research into the connection between housing and health. "Three main efforts are underway at HUD that match the administrative data on HUD-assisted renters with their health-related data. These efforts are low-cost initiatives that will greatly enhance our knowledge about health status and the healthcare use (and costs) of assisted households, including the possible cost savings of various policies."
    Other health advocates are more straightforward in advocating housing reform to health outcomes. UrbanLand, the newsletter of the Urban Land institute, featured an article called "Affordable Housing as a Vaccine for Healthier Children" which clearly made the connections between housing and health. Health researcher Dr. MeganSandel is quoted saying,"The discussion has moved beyond green building to trying to change the conditions that challenge healthy living, such as overcrowding, frequent moves, and choosing between paying the rent and energy bills."
    Beyond "healthy homes", however,  are the issues of affordability and energy efficiency. High housing  costs (rent & utilities) rob families of resources needed to maintain healthy lifestyles. Dr Sandel writes a prescription for things that municipalities need to do to protect housing health and safety. "every municipality should have high-quality housing standards, a rental inspection ordinance, and regular home inspections. Other solutions include saving energy through housing audits, highly efficient appliances, and the use of renewable energy technologies, which provide healthier environments and allow families to spend energy dollars elsewhere. " One step in this direction is housing codes and enforcement programs that protect tenants from unsafe, unhealthy conditions.
    Framingthe Issues, a 2007 report on the connections between health and housing, gives a comprehensive overview of the range of interventions.
    Where to begin?  Start where you are. 
  • For renter households that means making your home healthier and safer. here
  • For health & social service providers working with rental households that means educating and supporting healthy homes.  more here
  • For advocates, progress means working towards policies and programs that support the efforts of individual households.  more here
Making your home a healthy place to live...
improves your satisfaction and your well being.  Addressing health hazards is another one of those areas where landlords and tenants share responsibility.  Working together each can contribute to household stability.  Less household disruption for tenants, less "turn over" expense for landlords.

There are many harmful conditions and diseases related to poor housing conditions. These harmful effects include:

  • Allergies
  • Asthma
  • Carbon monoxide poisoning
  • Childhood lead poisoning
  • Insect and Rodent bites
  • Pesticide poisoning
  • Respiratory illness
  • Rodent bites
Bad housing hurts children
  A new study confirms what many of us have known: Housing stress is bad for children! From a summary of the new study: “Although single moves may provide a boost to poor children and teens in the short-term, perhaps allowing them to access safer housing or better schools, over time the cumulative effect of residential instability took a toll on children, increasing children's emotional and behavioral problems.”                Just accepting substandard conditions in order to stay in a particular location is not the answer.   The study author says: "We know that environmental stress can come not just from outside the home, but from the home itself when we consider the impact of living day-to-day with exposed wiring, peeling paint, rodents, poor sanitation and a lack of natural light, or with frequent moves from home to home."
    The "take away" may be that household stability is more than staying in one is really having a sense of control over the conditions in which the household is operating. 
more here and here.

Seven Steps to a Healthier Habitat in the Home  by Jim LaRue

1.  Keep Your Home Dry.  
  • prevent water leaks
  • report water leaks in writing to your landlord
2.  Keep Your Home Clean.  
  • Regularly dispose of rubbish and trash in a safe and sanitary manner.
  • Reduce clutter by creating storage spaces.
3. Keep Your Home Pest-Free:  Droppings from pests as well as their body parts are major triggers for people with asthma.  See pests

4. Keep your home well ventilated

5. Avoid Contaminants.  
  • Building materials and furnishings
  • Carbon Monoxide 
    A tenant whose family was poisoned by Carbon Monoxide and made homeless by a defective furnace fights back.
  • Mold
  • Pesticides
  • Radon (see above)
6.  Keep your home safe (link to Home Safety)

What's news?

How a Risk-Averse Hospital and a Risk-Taking CDC Built a Functional Partnership
"Hospitals across the country have been taking steps to work with community-based organizations to address a major cause of poor health in neighborhoods: substandard housing. Shelterforce recently chatted with Angela Mingo, community relations director of Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, and the Rev. John Edgar, the executive director of the faith-based CDC called Community Development for All People, to learn more about their partnership, how it came to be, and to find out how others can form similar partnerships to help residents in their respective communities."

"Renters Also Have Healthy Housing Concerns"
Joint Center for Housing Policy reports on a survey of renters around issues of healthy rental homes. "One of the more compelling findings of the study was that renters expressed healthy housing concerns at a higher rate than homeowners. Indeed, 36 percent of renters we surveyed reported some level of healthy housing concerns or suspected risks, while only 24 percent of homeowners did. Indoor air quality issues were most prevalent—including dust, dampness and moisture, lack of sufficient ventilation, and other indoor-air related problems including air pollution from outdoors. Other major concerns included water quality, and basic safety issues such as pests, and concerns about the physical structure.                                                 posted May 11, 2016

Is bad housing is a learning disability reports "Bad housing—not just due to lead poisoning--is tied to lower kindergarten test scores" The story is based on a study by the CWRU Center on Urban Poverty and Community Development. From the story “Lead poisoning, as in many other studies, was a major contributor to the poor test performance. About 40 percent of the more than 13,000 Cleveland Metropolitan school district children included in the study had records of a high blood lead level before arriving in kindergarten. But it's not lead poisoning alone that's hurting these kids. Children in the study with no record of lead poisoning who lived in or near bad housing scored lower on the kindergarten tests than their peers who lived in better housing. Together, lead exposure and bad housing delivered a double whammy: Children with both disadvantages performed the worst, scoring 15 percent lower than their peers in better housing with no history of lead poisoning.”

8 things to never bring into your home
Environmental chemicals are so pervasive, in fact, that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention monitors a whopping 298 of them that have been found in humans – many of them courtesy of consumer products. These kinds of chemicals are known to build up in the body and can lead to a demise in health, from infertility and birth defects to certain kinds of cancer. Read more here.

Radon risk rises in gas/oil counties
A new study from Johns Hopkins University finds that gas/oil drilling areas of Pennsylvania are have higher radon levels in homes than other parts of the state. Advocates on both sides are arguing whether fracking causes incrased radon exposure or just coincides without cause and effect. While the "experts" on both sides argue this out, tenants may want to pay attention to this home health hazard.
There's no dispute that radon, an odorless and colorless gas that occurs naturally in rock formations in parts of Pa and Ohio, is the biggest single cause of lung cancer among non-smokers. Radon emerges from rock formations and seeps upward towards the atmosphere. Radon becomes dangerous to humans when concentrations of gas accumulate in basements.
Here's how you can find out if your county is affected by higher than acceptable levels of radon gas. Radon in Ohio:
If your county has higher levels and you have a basement in your home or building. Testing may be in order. Don't expect your landlord to do the testing for you. It's not a landlord duty. Luckily, radon test kits are inexpensive. RHINO purchased a package with two testers at Home Depot for under $10 just yesterday. If the readings in your basement exceed the safe level, then you can use the landlord tenant law (5321.04) to request remediation. Your landlord may want to double check the results of your test with a professional. That's OK. There's a list of certified inspectors here:
EPA recommends using a certified contractor to reduce the radon level in the home. There's lots of information about finding and working with a certified radon contractor in this brochure.
Families who are renting in counties where gas and oil drilling are underway might want to take precautions to identify potential radon problems if they are in a building with a basement which could be collecting the naturally occurring gas. This map will help you identify your risk level. (click on map to see enlarged version)

The memo said “some asbestos removal...”
RHINO suggested, “why not call the local Health Department?” The local health department said that the contractor needed a permit from the state, so the tenant organizer called the contact person at Ohio Department of Health. Surprise! No permit! Armed with this info, the tenant activist sent a report on the asbestos removal process to the state official in charge of asbestos permits: Here's what the tenant said:

“They have been using a plain paneled white box truck. No signs on the truck as to what they removed. The people going in and out of these rooms did not wear protective clothing or respirators. They also sealed up a room on the first floor, next to tenants, apt. XXX. [The contractor] is doing the rehab here, and I don't know if they sub contracted someone else to do the removal. We were not made aware of this, till this past Monday a.m.,9-16-2013 , when I went down to collect my mail. The manager did not send out any kind of a notice as to what was going on. She made the statement when asked about it," I just found out myself." Really, this is how you treat residents, who have ailments with their lungs? (photos included)”.
     Asbestos is a dangerous material frequently used in construction years ago. As long as asbestos is sealed up in walls or under floors-no hazard, but when a building is being rehabbed specialized contractors and equipment are required to do the work. More on asbestos here
“It was only a little bit of asbestos” the manager told the tenant who questioned what was going on. Tenant says: “Not only am I concerned for myself but the other people here as well.” PS: Still waiting to hear back from ODH. Thanks to Nancy for sharing! If you have questions about home health issues contact our RHINO partner Environmental Health Watch