On Thursday, December 7th, the DC Asthma Coalition and the District of Columbia chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics co-sponsored a briefing on Healthy Housing for DC Council members. The briefing highlighted policy gaps and made recommendations that would address slow response to housing code violations and difficulties in coordination of responses to health, housing and environmental issues. Health experts also briefed the Council on the need to expand resources to address health hazards in housing.
Among the healthy housing challenges addressed at the briefing were persistent rodent infestations, leaks and mold, which affect the health of residents and contribute to asthma exacerbations. Four key recommendations were presented during the Briefing, including:
1) Improved interagency coordination through Memorandums of Understanding and/or an Interagency Working Group on Healthy Housing, to improve the ability of families to get prompt attention to housing code violations related to their health. Health leaders suggest that better coordination would also create sustainable public-facing mechanisms to access resources, programs and services offered by these agencies to correct housing conditions associated with health.
2) Public-private financing models to create sustainable resources for evidence-based asthma programs. By identifying sources of sustainable funding to supplement existing federal funding, the asthma programs would be able to expand their services, and be better equipped to address existing gaps such as low-income homeowners. Healthy housing advocates suggested additional funding could also be used to develop a workforce of health care workers to interface directly with families to deliver housing interventions aimed at creating healthier home environment.
3) Creation of better and more effective mechanisms for tenants to become aware of problems in housing prior to rental or purchase, and to access services when problems arise after occupancy. This approach would alert tenants to housing hazards prior to rental or purchase, and assist families when conditions arise during their occupancy that pose an immediate health risk.
4) Explore cost-effective models for addressing small hazards in housing, including the development of a trained, affordable workforce that could be accessed by low-income residents in rental or owner-occupied housing, as a means to create affordable and effective mechanisms for maintaining and repairing housing to prevent lead poisoning and asthma exacerbations. This proactive approach would support the development of building-wide and preventive measures, rather than waiting for residents to experience housing-related health conditions like asthma and lead poisoning.
Dr. Janet Phoenix, Chairperson of the DC Asthma Coalition, pointed to the immediate benefits and the long-term impact of prioritizing healthier home environments. Dr. Phoenix stated, “If we improve housing, especially for low-income DC residents, we have the potential to eliminate many poor health outcomes like children going to the emergency room for their asthma and the long-term deficits in IQ and learning that result from exposure to lead.”
The DC Asthma Coalition is a partnership of 89 individual members representing 33 organizations including the government, community-based organizations, managed care organizations, schools and other institutions that have an interest in eradicating the asthma epidemic in the District. The DC Asthma Coalition mission is to reduce the burden of asthma for residents of the District of Columbia by coordinating the efforts of agencies, organizations and individuals to support effective asthma programs.