The tri-state area has the oldest housing stock in the nation, with more than half of all homes built before 1960. While some older homes are still in good condition, a combination of disinvestment, absentee landlords, the deterioration of facilities, and lax housing code enforcement have led to high levels of indoor air pollutants, heavy metals, and mold. These conditions can contribute to diseases, such as asthma and lead poisoning—one in 50 children tested in the region suffer from high lead levels—which are more prevalent in low income communities.
Unfortunately, addressing health hazards in homes is done reactively. Remediation often occurs only after an individual health condition has been identified—that is, after renters have complained or gotten sick. Even worse is when renters fail to complain, despite a hazardous condition, because of a language barrier, or because they fear angering their landlord and compromising their housing situation.
Addressing health hazards in the home is also hampered by the fact that responsibility for housing issues and funding are divided among agencies. Buildings departments are typically responsible for overall building conditions. Tracking health data like blood lead levels is the responsibility of public health agencies. And energy efficiency programs, which can improve health conditions, are frequently led by state energy agencies.
Proactive monitoring of hazards can significantly improve people’s health and reduce costs
In the short term, streamlined inspection processes will produce better data that will enable more effective identification of the most burdened households, and as a result, more housing improvements. In the longer term, up to date inspection systems will make it easier to identify hazards and quickly reduce exposure to unhealthy conditions.
By 2040, lead and other leading health hazards should be eliminated from the region’s housing stock, with priority placed on the neighborhoods with the highest rates of related disease and health conditions. Just as states and municipalities set goals for carbon emissions, traffic deaths and other environmental and health conditions, they should set and meet targets for the eliminating residential health hazards.
Paying for It
Streamlining inspection processes can result in better use of existing funding, but routine inspections will likely require some additional funding. Upfront investments in sensors and technology could reduce long-term remediation needs. A more holistic approach to housing quality can also create a better business case for increasing funding, whether from municipal budgets, hospital community benefits or energy efficiency grants.
46Protect low-income residents from displacement47Strengthen and enforce fair housing laws
48Remove barriers to transit-oriented and mixed-use development
49Increase housing supply without constructing new buildings
50Build affordable housing in all communities across the region52Reform housing subsidies