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March 9, 2015
The Green & Healthy Homes Initiative (GHHI) has long been an advocate for healthy housing, realizing the crucial role it plays in determining health, social and economic outcomes. Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in partnership with National Public Radio (NPR) and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health (HSPH) recently called attention to the importance of healthy housing and other factors in their new poll and webcast series, “What Shapes Health?”
NPR’s related article, Improving Housing Can Pay Dividends in Better Health, included excellent case studies of families experiencing negative health impacts that improved after relocating to healthy homes. We commend the great work of the National Housing Conference and Bridge Housing as referenced in this article.
For most families, rehabilitation is the primary answer since relocation is not always an option. More than 20 million people in the U.S. live in unhealthy housing. There are simple not enough affordable, healthy homes available. Families are often aware that hazards in their home are affecting their health, but are unable to relocate because of lack of funds or lack of affordable options near their place of work or their children’s school. When families are lucky enough to move, another family will eventually move into the same unhealthy home, continuing the cycle.
GHHI is working to break this cycle by rehabilitating occupied housing and teaching families how to maintain the home. This allows families to stay in place and provides an enormous opportunity to revitalize and stabilize at-risk neighborhoods.
GHHI’s recent work in Baltimore, as published in Environmental Justice, shows that remediating home-based health hazards in occupied housing improves a family’s health. Simply removing asthma triggers, like mold and pests, while concurrently teaching families how to reduce dust mites and manage medication has resulted in a decrease of asthma-related hospitalizations, emergency department visits and missed days of school and work.
We are grateful that Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, NPR and HSPH are bringing attention to the social determinants that impact health and housing in our most vulnerable communities. I encourage everyone to follow this series and further the dialogue on the importance of healthy housing for all.