For most Americans, home represents a place of safety, security and shelter, where families come together.
Housing Conditions and Health
• Lead poisoning irreversibly affects brain and nervous system development resulting in lower intelligence and reading disabilities. Most lead exposures take place in the home particularly in homes built before 1978. There was usually lead in the paint as well as in the plumbing systems. Between 1998 and 2000 it was determined that a quarter of the nation’s housing approximately 24 million homes were estimated to have significant lead-based pain hazards.
• Indoor allergens and damp housing conditions play an important role in the development and exacerbation of respiratory conditions including asthma, which currently affects over 20 million Americans, and is the most common chronic disease among children. Approximately forty percent of diagnosed asthma among children is believed to be attributable to residential exposures.
• Exposure to very high or very low indoor temperatures can be detrimental to health. Cold indoor conditions have been associated with poorer health, including an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Extreme low and high temperatures have been associated with increased mortality especially among venerable populations such as the elderly.
• Housing can be a source of exposure to various carcinogenic air pollutants. Radon, a natural radioactive gas released from the ground has been associated with lung cancer; an estimated one in 15 homes has elevated radon levels. Residential exposure to environmental tobacco smoke, pollutants from heating and cooking with gas, volatile organic compounds and asbestos have been linked with respiratory illness and some types of cancer.
• Each year, injuries occurring at home result in an estimated 4 million emergency department visits and 70,000 hospital admissions. Some contributing factors include structural features of the home such as steep staircases and balconies, lack of safety devices such as window guards and smoke detectors, and substandard heating systems.
• Poor indoor air quality, lead paint lack of home safety devices, and other housing hazards often coexist in homes placing children and families at great risk for multiple health problems.
Examples of public and public-private initiatives to improve physical conditions in homes
• The HHI (Healthy Homes Initiative) Congress established the HHI to develop and implement a program of research and demonstration projects that would address multiple housing related problems affecting the health of children. Approximately $48.5 million was spent on these programs from 1999-2005.
• SKCHHP (Seattle King County Healthy Homes Project) this agency was a joint venture of public and private agencies to improve asthma-related health status by reducing exposure to allergens and irritants in low-income households of families with asthmatic children. Intended to expose the many multiple household hazards.
Neighborhood conditions and health
• The concentration of substandard housing in less advantaged neighborhoods further compounds racial and ethnic as well as socioeconomic disparities in health.
• In 1992 the HOPE VI program was established to invest approximately 6.3 billion dollars to demolish, reconfigure, or replace the nation’s worst housing projects. As of June 2006, over 78,000 units had been demolished and another 10,400 were slated for redevelopment.
Strategies for improving health through public and private housing policies: Healthier, more affordable homes in healthy neighborhoods.
• History has shown the importance of addressing issues such as fire hazards sanitation, ventilation and crowding to reduce injuries and certain infectious diseases
• Sustaining and expanding healthy homes initiatives at the federal, state and local levels, including public-private collaborative programs.
• Providing support for high utilities costs through the federal low income home energy assistance program and similar state and voluntary programs that assist households with unaffordable heating, cooling and electricity bills.
• Pursuing public and private initiatives to encourage viable green building in residential construction and federal affordable housing programs by using energy efficient and green building standards; and by developing supportive financing mechanisms such as energy-efficient and location-efficient mortgages.
Examples of strategies targeting housing affordability:
• Developing public-private initiatives to expand affordable housing options through subsidies enabling, individual tenants to rent in the private sector and through construction of new health-promoting affordable housing.
• Implementing state and local land use and zoning policies to promote fair housing choice in communities.
• Exploring private initiatives-such as Habitat for Humanity-to create more affordable, healthy housing.