Monthly Archives: August 2012

The Intersection of Health and Housing

Craig Whittaker founded Environmental Solutions Group in 2002 to provide impartial evaluation of properties relative to environmental health. A doctoral member of the American Academy of Environmental Medicine, he is frequently asked to speak about  toxins in the home and has conducted hundreds of assessments in a wide variety of building types.

In my work as an environmental health & safety professional, I am continually amazed at how many properties in the community are woefully in need of repair. It is fairly common to see visible safety and maintenance issues such as water leaks and poor lighting, but equally prevalent, although not as visible, are issues with toxins such as lead, pesticides, radon, mold and carbon monoxide. While housing for families receiving public assistance is most likely to have the previously mentioned challenges, the past few years have led to similar issues at homes in suburban neighborhoods that used to be safe and healthy places to raise a family.

A recent paper released by the National Center for Healthy Housing, the Center for Housing Policy, ChangeLab Solutions, and Trust for America’s Health, makes a strong case for more interconnection and collaboration among housing, environmental health and public health agencies. The paper, “Housing and Health: New Opportunities for Dialogue and Action”, provides a framework for government, philanthropic organizations, and NGOs to work toward mutual goals that contribute to the health of all community members.

One area where the groups mentioned above have excelled at cooperating in recent years is with the issue of homelessness. Housing and health practitioners, community and government policymakers have worked together to develop interdisciplinary solutions that have proven effective in reducing the number of homeless. In my community, shelters are located near services that homeless individuals need to improve their lives. I cannot count, however, how many times I have seen lower-income neighborhoods situated in crowded areas, far away from medical services, healthy food and retail, and a pedestrian-friendly means of getting around.

One way communities can act is to be sure local and regional transportation planning takes into account land use and zoning regulations that maximize the opportunity for walking and public transportation. It is also crucial to be sure policies are in place to help prevent housing price increases that push out the low and moderate-income families who stand to benefit the most from the health and economic gains that will be realized from good community planning.

I am excited with the results healthy housing initiatives have achieved in my community. I also look forward to pushing for more dialogue between organizations that are in a position to make a huge difference through the intersection of health and housing.