I just returned from the National Healthy Homes Conference as well as the Green and Healthy Homes Initiative meeting in Denver. The meetings reaffirm MTO’s commitment to involve ourselves and help shape the agenda of this growing movement. Some of the thoughts that I took away from the meeting are as follows.
This movement calls upon us to think differently and to look at the broader picture. It challenges organizations and governmental agencies to get out of their silos and to become “yes we can” facilitators. For instance, one agency described a scenario where a home owner had dangerous lead hazards in their home. The house also had a leaky roof. Because of funding restrictions, the agency had to tell the resident that before the lead hazard could be abated the roof needed to be fixed. Under a green and healthy approach, an agency would look to use green and energy efficiency resources to repair the roof and simultaneously abate the lead. A contractor would be resolving several issues at one time. This is efficient and in the long run, saves money.
Another part of looking at the broader picture means collaborating with other groups. Collaborations allow agencies to bring together specialized skills and focus on solving larger problems. Strong partnerships build connections between issues, increase resources, and create a vision for solving the nation’s larger housing problems.
A few statistics demonstrate the need for a Healthy Homes approach. According the World Health Organization two-thirds of all deaths are caused by non-communicable diseases and 25% can be addressed environmentally. The other important fact is that between 18% and 30 % of green house gases are the result of residential housing. Making our homes greener can have a huge impact on the environment.
The biggest challenge facing us in this effort is financing. In its budget cutting craze, the federal government is looking to cut its investments in healthy homes. Conference participants suggested looking to Medicaid and insurance companies for financing because if we can prevent these home based illnesses in the long run it will create huge cost savings for these institutions. Most everyone agreed that in the end, the federal government must take a leading role in financing these changes.
Finally, for me the biggest reason to support a green and healthy homes framework is that it promotes health equity. Promoting wellness is far more cost effective that treating illness. If we look at who is living in housing which is poorly maintained, in bad neighborhoods that often contain health hazards, we will see it is low-come families, often times families of color. It is the same population which disproportionately suffers from such environmentally related health issues such as lead poisoning and asthma. By making our homes greener and healthier, we will improve everyone’s health and thus in the end it will raise the quality of life for everyone.