News

Housing Quality and Health: Revealing the Connections, Addressing the Challenges (Part 2)

July 7th, 2021 by Don Bianchi & Elana Brochin

Revitalize CDC in Springfield improves housing conditions by performing assessments and interventions for adults and children with asthma to safely remain in their home. (Photo credit: Revitalize CDC)

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MACDC has long supported its members in their work to improve housing quality. In recent years, MACDC worked with it's members to establish health equity work as a defining characteristic of the contemporary community development movement in Massachusetts. We are now in the beginning stages of an initiative to link these two strands of our work. We would like to engage with as many stakeholders as possible in this process, and, therefore, are publishing this series of blog posts to share out ideas and get your feedback.

 

Defining the Problem

In our first blog post, we discussed how housing quality can impact health on a broad scale and how Massachusetts’ housing stock is particularly susceptible to these challenges because of its age. In the following blog post, we detail how specific housing quality and safety problems can result in negative health outcomes for individuals and communities. We also discuss how and why many of these challenges disproportionately impact vulnerable populations such as children, elderly, low-income families and people of color.

Lead
Unsafe Housing Conditions:
Over 70% of homes in Massachusetts were constructed before lead paint was banned in 1978. All homes built before 1978 are likely to contain some lead-based paint which can be inhaled or ingested1 unless steps have already been taken to make them lead-safe or remove that lead paint.

The Resulting Health and Safety Problems:
Any amount of lead in the body can hurt the brain, kidneys, and nervous system, slow down growth and development, make it hard to learn, damage hearing and speech, and cause behavior problems. These problems are particularly harmful to children who absorb lead more easily than adults and who are still growing and developing. Between 2013 and 2017, 16,961 children in Massachusetts were estimated to have blood levels above 5 micrograms per deciliter – the level at which the Center for Disease Control and Prevention says the source of lead exposure should be investigated.2

Impact on Populations at Risk:
Lead exposure is unevenly distributed across the Commonwealth with communities that face inequities in accessing quality housing being particularly susceptible.3 According to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, Black children are nearly 2.5 times more likely to have lead poisoning than white children. Additionally, children living in low-income communities are over 3 times more likely to have elevated lead levels than children living in high income communities.4 This disproportionate impact translates to over half of children with confirmed elevated blood levels being concentrated in just 19 cities and towns in Massachusetts.5

Poor Indoor Air Quality
Unsafe Housing Conditions:
Poor indoor air quality is caused by mold, dust, second-hand smoke, poor ventilation, and leaky pipes and faucets. Outdoor air pollution, from cars, smoke, and industrial sources, can also impact indoor air quality, as can weather patterns like humidity, precipitation, and wind patterns.

The Resulting Health and Safety Problems:
Poor air quality can cause respiratory and allergy symptoms including coughing, sneezing, and difficulty breathing. Exposure to air pollution can also cause asthma or make asthma symptoms worse.  Asthma is particularly pervasive in Massachusetts: about one in eleven people currently has asthma,  including 10.2% of adults and 12.9% of children. Asthma that is not well-controlled interferes with daily lives. For example, almost half of children with current asthma missed at least one day of school or day care as a result of their asthma symptoms.7

Impact on Populations at Risk:
Like many other health outcomes associated with housing quality, asthma is unevenly distributed across the Commonwealth. In Massachusetts 13.8% of Black, Non-Hispanic adults in Massachusetts suffer from asthma as compared with 10.4% of white adults.8 This trend is mirrored in children where, according to a 2017 report9, Emergency Department visits were 2.5 and 3.5 times higher for Hispanic and Black non-Hispanic children as compared with white children in 2012. This same report showed that 17.1% of children living in a household with income of less than $25,000 suffered from asthma as compared with 8.1% of children living in households with an income of $75,000 or greater.

Properties in Unsafe Condition
Unsafe Housing Conditions:
In rental housing in MA, the landlord is responsible for compliance with the Massachusetts State Sanitary Code. The Code requires, among other things, that the rental unit have adequate sewage disposal, heating, and hot water. The home must also be free of hazards, ranging from pest infestation to asbestos and, for households with a child under 6 years old, lead paint. While a tenant has rights in the event a landlord is not in compliance with the Sanitary Code, enforcing these rights can be time-consuming and challenging, while in the interim the unsafe conditions persist. Owner-occupants may lack the resources to address unsafe conditions in their homes. 

The Resulting Health and Safety Problems:
Renters and homeowners who live in homes that are substandard or not suitable for them can suffer health consequences, including accidents and falls and the spread of infectious disease. The risks associated with overcrowded living conditions became potentially deadly during the COVID-19 pandemic. Fires, whether stemming from unsafe (and often hidden) electrical problems or other causes, can have deadly consequences. 

Impact on Populations at Risk:
The same populations that are particularly impacted by unsafe housing face the double whammy of having fewer housing choices when they determine that their current homes are unsuitable.  Many elders and persons with disabilities encounter a dearth of homes with the accessible or adaptable features they require. For low-income and low-wealth households, the high cost of renting or buying limits their options. For all of these households, and households encountering discrimination, finding other safe, suitable and affordable housing may not be an option at all. Further, in the event that a family is able to relocate to safer housing, the unsafe conditions that they left persist for the next family. 

Despite state and federal laws that prohibit discrimination in the sale and rental of housing, discrimination persists in MA. A study released in 2020 by the Housing Discrimination Testing Program (HDTP) at Suffolk University Law School, showed that housing providers showed Black testers about half the number of apartments they showed to white testers.  The same study demonstrated that, about 40 percent of the time, the housing providers stopped communicating after testers revealed they intended to use vouchers. HDTP researchers also found that families with young children faced rampant housing discrimination.

Two Factors That Exacerbate the Impact of Substandard Housing on Resident and Community Health
Two broader problems deepen substandard housing’s impact on health, and make addressing this impact more complex and challenging:

  • Neighborhood-and community-level property distress requires policy interventions that go beyond individual property strategies; and
  • The already pernicious impacts of climate change render addressing housing quality, without addressing climate resilience, inadequate in order to protect resident and community health.

Neighborhood Disinvestment:
Lead paint, poor indoor air quality, and unsafe housing conditions each affect community and individual health in distinct ways. As noted previously, they each disproportionately impact particular populations. Geography also plays an important role. 

Many lower-income neighborhoods in Massachusetts—most notably, but not solely, in the state’s Gateway Cities and some rural communities —struggle with the challenges of weak real estate markets, where low rents and declining values, caused in significant part by decades of discriminatory housing policies, make it difficult to maintain an aging housing stock. According to a 2018 study by the Brookings Institution, “Homes of similar quality in neighborhoods with similar amenities are worth 23 percent less in majority Black neighborhoods, compared to those with very few or no Black residents.”  As a result, all of the housing quality and safety problems described above can exist, and persist, on a neighborhood or community-wide scale.

In these neighborhoods, as the cost of maintenance rises, home values can steadily decline to the point where it can stop making economic sense to invest in these structures for the long term. Where this happens, one sees absentee owners buying cheap and collecting as much rent as they can before rot wins out and the building is no longer habitable. Often the result is a dilapidated problem property sitting idle, sapping value from surrounding homes and devaluing the equity that nearby homeowners were counting on to provide financial security and a nest egg for retirement.10 These community-wide impacts call for community-level (or even regional) responses.

Climate Change:
Climate change impacts many aspects of our lives. Efforts to combat climate change, and its impact, are underway in Massachusetts, including passage of legislation to dramatically reduce climate emissions.  Nonetheless, the harmful impacts of a warming climate are already being felt, in homes and neighborhoods across the Commonwealth.

The Massachusetts Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS), in its Massachusetts Environmental Public Health tracking, identifies the most serious climate-related health hazards as those resulting from:

  • Increasing numbers of very hot (>90°F) summer days
  • Increasing precipitation leading to flooding
  • Increasing storm-related inland and coastal flooding
  • Rising sea levels

According to EOHHS, climate change is expected to increase the number of days over 90°F each year, which may increase hospitalizations for heat-related illnesses. People who work outdoors, live in urban areas with limited greenspace, or lack air-conditioning are more likely to experience heat illness during extreme heat events. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has determined that “heat islands” (urban areas where structures are highly concentrated and greenery is limited) were responsible for daytime temperatures in urban neighborhoods rising as much as 7 degrees higher than those in outlying areas. The EPA found that the worst temperature differences are in more humid cities along the East Coast.

There are a wide variety of other ways that climate change can negatively impact human health. Air pollution events, sea-level rise, flooding, and severe weather that can result in both acute and chronic health impacts, including mental health. People who live near rivers or coastlines that experience flooding may come in contact with contaminated flood waters or experience respiratory impacts from mold growth in water-damaged homes or buildings.

Conclusion: 
While housing quality and safety challenges pose a threat to community and individual health, and an even more serious threat to particular populations, there are a number of interventions that are designed to address these problems. In our next blog post, we will introduce you to these interventions and begin to identify where there are gaps. 

We welcome your thoughts and reactions and would encourage you to share them with us. Elana Brochin can be reached at elanab@macdc.org; Don Bianchi at donb@macdc.org.

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1 - https://matracking.ehs.state.ma.us/Inspections/lead-inspection.html
2 - http://www.mass.gov/guides/phit-data-childhood-lead-poisoning https://www.mass.gov/guides/phit-data-childhood-lead-poisoning
3 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3222490/; https://www.healthypeople.gov/2020/topics-objectives/topic/social-determinants-health/interventions-resources/quality-of-housing
4 - https://www.mass.gov/doc/childhood-lead-exposure-impact-at-a-glance/download
5 - High-risk communities are defined as those with a 5-year incidence rate of children who have a confirmed concentration of ≥ 10 micrograms of lead per deciliter cases that is above the state 5-year incidence rate after adjusting for low to moderate income and old housing stock (built pre-1978)
6 - www.mass.gov/service-details/statistics-about-asthma#:~:text=About%20one%20out%20of%20every,United%20States%20and%20in%20Massachusetts.
7 - https://www.mass.gov/service-details/statistics-about-asthma
8 - https://www.mass.gov/service-details/statistics-about-asthma#:~:text=The%20prevalence%20of%20asthma%20is%20high%20in%20Massachusetts&text=The%20prevalence%20of%20current%20asthma,ethnicity%20subgroups%20in%2020152.
9 - https://www.mass.gov/doc/pediatric-asthma-data-bulletin-0/download
10 - Ben Forman and Alan Mallach, “Building Communities of Promise and Possibility: State and Local Blueprints for Comprehensive Neighborhood Stabilization”, January 2019

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The Mel King Institute Celebrates its 12th year with a Virtual Breakfast Event

June 24th, 2021 by Ian Sloan

At the Mel King Institute's 12th Anniversary Virtual Breakfast, stories of community resilience were on the menu. About 150 leaders from across the Bay State came together on Zoom to celebrate what has been a tremendously challenging year. MACDC Board Member and Main South CDC’s Casey Starr led the program, helping us highlight the many different ways community organizations have stepped up during the pandemic. After having all of the interesting presentations and discussions, it is clear that this past year can be summed up in two general yet very powerful words: resiliency and leadership.

One central point during the Breakfast event was the announcement of the Mel King Institute’s Resident Leadership Academy, which will be officially launched this fall. Through this new program, the Mel King Insitute’s training sessions and helpful events will reach residents directly in CDCs and other kinds of subsidized housing. By expanding the availability of our resources, we can help foster resident power and engagement. Taking from our 2021 Yearbook, “the training helps residents build networks of shared power, as well as build key skills such as running meetings, communications, issue identification and taking action.” Our impact is clear and over the past year, we have:

  • Trained 120 residents;
  • Offered 82 training sessions;
  • Offered 8 open roundtables;
  • Engaged 52 housing authorities across the Commonwealth.

In all, we have trained 361 residents all time, allowing communities to harness and effectively utilize both their individual and collective power.

Also on the menu was a fascinating and enriching conversation with Marietta Rodriguez, President and CEO of NeighborWorks America. Throughout the discussion, Marietta further introduced ways for community leaders to lift up the residents around them. As we all looked back on a year dominated by public health and emergency action plans, Marietta explained how communities can become stronger now more than ever, especially as old challenges persist and new ones begin as the Commonwealth recovers.

Through engaging pieces of poetry, Mah Camara and Maria Luisa Arroyo helped us bring context to the challenges facing Massachusetts and every corner of the world. As we look ahead to steadily reopening in-person sessions and trainings, and as we prepare to face these future challenges head on, Maria Luisa Arroyo’s “Learn 2 Teach, Teach 2 Learn” sums it up best: “According to Mel King, it is all about access.” You can read the poems in the 2021 Yearbook.

Watch the full breakfast video.

Watch our annual video series:

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Governor’s FY22 Capital Budget Includes New Funding for Key MACDC Priorities

June 21st, 2021 by Don Bianchi

On June 14th, the Governor announced the release of his Administration’s FY22 Capital Spending Plan.  The FY22 Capital Budget funds new programs authorized in the recently enacted Economic Development law, while level-funding most longstanding affordable housing programs. 

 

MACDC’s Analysis of the FY22 spending plan for all of the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) housing programs, and for selected Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development (EOHED) community development programs of interest to CDCs, is attached. It includes a comparison to FY21 spending. 

 

With the spending on newly authorized programs, overall spending on affordable housing increased by more than $18 million when compared to FY21 spending, to more than $255 million.  MACDC is particularly pleased about the spending on DHCD housing programs authorized by the Economic Development legislation, including $6.5 million for Neighborhood Stabilization, $2 million for a Rural and Small Town Development Fund, and $1.7 million for climate-resilient affordable housing. For EOHED programs, the FY22 Capital Budget includes level funding for Brownfields Redevelopment and the MA Food Trust Program, an increase of $1.75 million in grants for Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs), and $8 million in new funding to support the redevelopment of underutilized or vacant properties into active commercial, housing, or green civic space. 

 

MACDC is thankful to the Baker-Polito Administration for its funding of critical affordable housing and community development programs, and to the MA Legislature for its authorization of these programs. MACDC is also grateful to its members for the great work they do every day to ensure that the funding provided will result in projects and programs that benefit residents in every corner of the Commonwealth. 

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Division of Banks Provides Unprecedented Funding for Financial Counseling- CDCs in Central Role

June 21st, 2021 by Don Bianchi

On June 16th, the MA Division of Banks (“The Division”) announced $2.25 million in grants for a Pilot Program to fund financial literacy and debt resolution education programs.  The grants are supported by the Division’s Banks Mortgage Loan Settlement Trust, established to accept settlement funds related to mortgage loan servicing and foreclosure abuses. 

 

Impressively, all but one of the 18 nonprofits awarded funds are MACDC Members, demonstrating the crucial role that CDCs play in the Commonwealth’s infrastructure for empowering residents with the knowledge they need to obtain and keep a home, save and pay for a college education, and better understand maintaining their overall finances. 

 

These awards come just weeks after the Division awarded over $2.5 million in grants to fund first-time homeownership education programs and foreclosure prevention counseling centers throughout the Commonwealth. The 21 awards, through this “Chapter 206 Grant Program” went to 10 foreclosure prevention regional centers and 11 consumer counseling organizations, with the majority of awards going to MACDC Members.  The more than $2.5 in awards was the most ever awarded by the Division in the 13 years of the Chapter 206 program, an increase of $1 million over the $1.5 million awarded each of the prior three years. 

 

Taken together, in just the past few weeks, the Division has awarded more than $4.5 million in grants to support essential financial counseling and education.  MACDC is thankful to the Division of Banks, and to the Baker-Polito Administration. They have responded to the needs of the Commonwealth’s families, who have endured the economic fallout from the pandemic, by tripling the amount of grants awarded for financial counseling. We are also grateful for the key role that CDCs play in educating and empowering these families- and proud of our association with them. 

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An Update on MACDC’s Racial Equity Work

June 9th, 2021 by Tiana Lawrence

After the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor in the spring of 2020, a national and global uprising and fight towards racial justice, equity and peace was reignited. As a response to the collective action, many Massachusetts based Community Development Corporations expressed the necessity of increasing and strengthening their commitment to racial equity work. Consequently, MACDC has been engaging members since, leading in racial equity initiatives and supporting the membership in their journeys. Here’s a timeline of action steps taken so far: 

Summer 2020  

  • MACDC’s 2020 Member Survey collects data on the various racial equity efforts being taken by the membership. 
  • The Organizer's Peer group decides to work together on Racial Equity.  
  • The Organizer's Peer group develops a racial equity pledge and asks MACDC members to sign on. 
  • Organizers meet with the Alliance Steering Committee.  
  • A working group of organizers and one Mel King Alliance Steering Committee member further develop the pledge including discussions with their executive directors and organizations’ racial equity/diversity/inclusion committee members. 

Winter 2020 

  • MACDC hosts their 2020 Member Meeting: Venturing Towards Racial Equity. 
  • The Organizers Peer group presents the racial equity pledge at the MACDC member meeting on racial equity. 
  • The MACDC Board agrees to include the pledge as part of MACDC's racial equity work. 

Winter 2021 

  • MACDC develops a Racial Equity Advisory Committee to discuss racial equity work being done, where it is headed, and further develop and distribute the racial equity pledge to the larger membership. 

Racial Equity Advisory Committee Members  

  • Joseph Kriesberg, Executive Director; MACDC 
  • Shirronda Almeida, Director; MKI 
  • Pamela Bender, Senior Organizer; MACDC 
  • Tiana Lawrence, Community Engagement Fellow; MKI 
  • Kimberly Lyle, Director of Strategy and Development; Dorchester Bay Economic Development Corporation 
  • Emilio Dorcely, Chief Executive Officer; Urban Edge 
  • Jennifer Van Campen, Executive Director; Metro West Collaborative Development 
  • Samantha Montano, Senior Community Organizer; JPNDC 
  • Sharon Fosbury, Director of Community Building; TNDINC 
  • Francisco Ramos, Director of Community Organizing; New Vue Communities

 

  • MACDC and the Racial Equity Advisory Committee begins to work with All Aces, Inc. for guidance and support with the process and distribution of the racial equity pledge and next steps. 
  • MACDC distributes a Diversity, Inclusion, Equity Transformation (DIET) assessment and holds focus groups for members in partnership with All Aces. 

Spring 2021 

  • MACDC staff and the Racial Equity Advisory Committee reviews the data summary from the DIET Assessment. 
  • The Racial Equity Advisory Committee continues to meet, discuss and develop the racial equity pledge and avenues for the process of having the MACDC membership sign on. 
  • The Mel King Institute holds its largest virtual Stand Against Racism Event. Check out the blog post about the event.
  • Members of the Racial Equity Advisory Committee attend All Aces workshops.  

Summer 2021 

  • MACDC staff and the Racial Equity Advisory Committee continues to discuss and finalize the racial equity pledge and work with All Aces to roll out the pledge and All Aces workshops to the larger memberships. 

Next Steps 

  • Finalize and launch the racial equity pledge. 
  • Provide activities and trainings to support those committing to the pledge. 

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Solar Technical Assistance Retrofit Program Receives Phase Two Award

June 7th, 2021 by Don Bianchi

Through the Solar Technical Assistance Retrofit (STAR) Program, LISC Boston is partnering with MACDC and Resonant Energy to remove barriers and dramatically increase the adoption of solar PV for affordable housing developments across the Commonwealth. In Phase One15 organizations, primarily CDCs, received staff time support grants and free technical analysis services to analyze the solar potential and financing options for their portfolios. 

 

LISC has just been awarded $67,000 from the JAMPART Charitable Foundation to support the second phase of the STAR Program.  This will allow the Program to support an additional 15 Massachusetts affordable housing organizations (with a specific focus on CDCs and other affordable housing organizations located in Gateway Cities) with solar feasibility portfolio analyses in the first half of 2022. MACDC will play an important role in program outreach to CDCs. 

 

If you have questions or are interested in participating in Phase Two of the STAR Program, please reach out to Emily Jones at LISC, at ejones@lisc.org. 

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The Community Development Movement Lost one of its legendary leaders on April 28 when Charles "Chuck" Grigsby passed away.

May 26th, 2021 by Joe Kriesberg

Chuck's contributions to the Community Development field's birth and growth over the past nearly 50 years represent a legacy that will be remembered for a long time. It was Mel King who was the state representative that led the campaign to create the state’s community development infrastructure in the 1970s. It was Chuck Grigsby who was hired to transform that vision into reality by serving as the founding executive director of the Community Development Finance Corporation in the 1970s. 

Later, after community groups (including MACDC, MAHA and others) successfully won passage of legislation to require insurance companies to make community investments, the life insurance industry also turned to Chuck to make that dream a reality by hiring him to be the founding executive director of the Life Initiative in the 1990s. And once again when the Deval Patrick Administration merged CDFC with another state quasi-public entity to create the Massachusetts Growth Capital Corporation in 2010, they turned to Chuck to lead the merger and create a new, stronger, and more impactful agency.  He also served as the director of the Public Facilities Departments (now the Department of Neighborhood Development) for the City of Boston in the 1990s during the Thomas Menino Administration. 

To each of these roles, Chuck brought his extraordinary intelligence, leadership, creativity, and commitment. The results speak for themselves. Chuck was someone that I deeply admired from the start of our relationship in the 1990s when he helped us create the CDC Community Business Network, an innovative model for shared staffing and collaboration that was built in close partnership with the City of Boston. I clearly remember the meeting where Chuck laid out his vision. We all nodded in agreement. Later, I had the pleasure of working closely with Chuck as he built the Life Initiative into a critical player in the community development field - not an easy task given the insurance industry's lack of familiarity with our field. Finally, I had one more opportunity to see Chuck in action when he took the helm at MGCC where I serve on the Board of Directors. The success and impact of MGCC in responding to the pandemic over the past year (for which we recently gave them an award) can be traced directly to the culture and foundation that Chuck built during those early years. Over the course of our relationship, I learned a great deal from Chuck about finance, public service, politics, leadership and how to live life to the fullest (learn more about his many hobbies in this terrific Boston Globe article).

The Massachusetts Community Development movement is incredibly fortunate to have had many great leaders over the decades. Today, we walk on their shoulders and none were broader and stronger than those of Chuck Grigsby. May his memory be a blessing.

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Housing Quality and Health: Revealing the Connections, Addressing the Challenges (Part 1)

May 24th, 2021 by Don Bianchi & Elana Brochin

Revitalize CDC in Springfield improves housing conditions by performing assessments and interventions for adults and children with asthma to safely remain in their home. (Photo credit: Revitalize CDC)

MACDC has long supported its members in their work to improve housing quality. In recent years, MACDC worked with it's members to establish health equity work as a defining characteristic of the contemporary community development movement in Massachusetts. We are now in the beginning stages of an initiative to link these two strands of our work. We would like to engage with as many stakeholders as possible in this process, and, therefore, are publishing this series of blog posts to share out ideas and get your feedback.

Surveying the Landscape

Springfield ranks 12th among cities nationwide in the prevalence of asthma, a distinction that the City’s residents and institutions are working hard to overcome. Revitalize CDC partners with Baystate Medical Center, Health New England, and the Public Health Institute of Western MA on the Greater Springfield Healthy Homes Asthma Program. The CDC conducts a home assessment to identify and eliminate asthma triggers, such as poor ventilation, leaks, and pests. The program then provides supplies to help mitigate triggers, provides education, and administers an asthma control test (ACT) before and after services are provided, to determine if symptoms have been alleviated. By addressing the unsafe and unhealthy housing that can trigger asthma, Revitalize CDC is seeing improvements in resident health after just 6 months of the program.

Like the residents of Springfield, all people need and deserve access to safe, stable, and affordable housing. Yet, for too many families, their housing is anything but safe. Persistent housing quality problems have serious consequences for those who occupy the homes, and for the broader community; among these consequences are poor health outcomes, such as asthma. The silver lining in this bleak landscape is that, by improving housing quality, we can also provide an antidote to many of these health problems. MACDC’s Housing Quality & Health (HQH) Initiative is intended to shed light on this troubling link, assess what existing interventions exist, and get to work on filling in the gaps on these remedies.

Why Focus on Housing Quality Now and Why Apply a Health Lens to This Problem?

According to a 2016 report from the National Association of Home Builders, the median age of owner-occupied homes in Massachusetts was 54 years, second oldest in the nation. In other words, half of the owner-occupied homes in MA were built before 1962, more than 15 years before lead paint was outlawed. Furthermore, New England’s harsh winters can wreak havoc on neglected homes.

Over the last several years, there has been increasing recognition of the ways in which social, economic, and physical factors affect individual and community health. In 2017 the Massachusetts Department of Public Health adopted six health priorities that address these factors, which are collectively referred to as “Social Determinants of Health.” Housing is one these identified health priorities. The COVID-19 pandemic has elucidated the link between housing and health. We witnessed the ways in which overcrowding and improper ventilation led to increased disease transmission. Devastating in so many ways, the COVID-19 pandemic highlights the inextricable convergence of health and housing and presents an opportunity to further envision the ways we can leverage a health lens to scale up efforts to improve housing quality and safety.

Indeed, opportunity can spring from crisis, and the Commonwealth’s response to the climate crisis presents such an opportunity. Passage of the Climate Roadmap legislation requires Massachusetts to achieve a 50% reduction in statewide greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, and net zero emissions by 2050. This will require major investments that go beyond typical energy efficiency measures, to include aggressive electrification and decarbonization efforts, and prioritizing climate resiliency. Healthier homes will be one important byproduct of this work.

The Link Between Housing Quality and Health

The prevalence of asthma in Springfield is just one example of the ways in which poor housing quality can cause and exacerbate serious health problems for its occupants and for the broader community. These health problems often reflect structural inequities.

    For example:
  • Substandard housing creates health hazards for its occupants, including increasing the likelihood of accidents and falls and the spread of infectious disease.
  • Substandard housing can also increase susceptibility to the impacts of climate change, including extreme temperatures and weather events.
  • Lead-based paint hurts the brain and other organs and has particularly harmful effects on children.

​The negative health outcomes associated with poor quality housing disproportionately impact the most vulnerable among us- children, seniors, people with disabilities and lower incomes, and many communities of color. For example, in Massachusetts, 13.8% of Black, Non-Hispanic adults in Massachusetts suffer from asthma as compared with 10.4% of white adults1 and over half of children with confirmed elevated blood levels live in just 19 cities and towns in Massachusetts.2 The particularly insidious impacts on children of exposure to lead paint are noted above. Elderly residents are most at risk for falls and are particularly impacted by exposure to extreme temperatures. People with disabilities, who often have fewer housing options available to them, may find it more difficult to move from housing that poses health risks.

Current Efforts to Address the Problems:

    There are several current policies, programs, and practices in place to address the housing quality and safety challenges, which can be grouped into four categories:
  • Efforts to prevent and reduce hazards and improve housing quality range from responsible property management to strong code enforcement and tenant protection policies, to programs that improve housing quality and abate lead-based paint. These include smoke-free housing policies and support for the development and operation of the well-regulated, high quality, affordable housing stock.
  • Energy efficiency and climate initiatives can reduce energy costs and provide a safer living environment. These include utility ratepayer-funded energy retrofit programs, increased availability and affordability of renewable energy, and implementation of climate resiliency and mitigation strategies.
  • Neighborhood stabilization strategies provide tools and incentives for both the private and public sectors, so that distressed and vacant buildings are brought back into productive use and maintained as quality residential and commercial properties.
  • Local healthy homes programs, and partnerships with health institutions, are among the initiatives that act on the explicit connection between housing quality and health.

Filling the Gaps

While there are many initiatives that support housing quality and safety challenges in Massachusetts, there is no coordinated approach, and these efforts lack the scale we need to address the problems. In order to increase the capacity of state and local governments, CDCs, housing courts, and others to successfully improve the safety and quality of older homes across the state, we need to fill existing gaps and scale up our efforts. We suggest the following strategies:

  • Increased availability of data on housing quality and safety challenges that is timely, publicly accessible, and reflects the disproportionate impacts of substandard housing on the health on Communities of Color, immigrants, residents of disinvested neighborhoods, and others. We also need data on the impact that current programs have on addressing these challenges, and where they fall short.
  • Increased public and private investment addressing home-specific substandard quality, energy-inefficient and climate-vulnerable buildings, and neighborhood-level distress.
  • Establishment of a Task Force, representing the various stakeholders, to better coordinate the strategies that address the broad spectrum of housing quality problems impacting families, and the homes and neighborhoods where they reside.

These strategies must be adopted by a wide range of players in order to be successful. In subsequent blogs, we will dig deeper into the housing quality problems that negatively impact resident and community health, current programs intended to address the problems, and strategies to fill the existing gaps and meaningfully address both housing quality and health.

As noted above, this, and other blogs in this series, are intended to start a conversation. We’ve convened a working group to help us navigate this work. We’d also welcome your thoughts and reactions and would encourage you to share them with us. Elana Brochin can be reached at elanab@macdc.org; Don Bianchi at donb@macdc.org.


[1] https://www.mass.gov/service-details/statistics-about-asthma#:~:text=The%20prevalence%20of%20asthma%20is%20high%20in%20Massachusetts&text=The%20prevalence%20of%20current%20asthma,ethnicity%20subgroups%20in%2020152.

[2] High-risk communities are defined as those with a 5-year incidence rate of children who have a confirmed concentration of ≥ 10 micrograms of lead per deciliter cases that is above the state 5-year incidence rate after adjusting for low to moderate income and old housing stock (built pre-1978)

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The Mel King Institute held its largest virtual Stand Against Racism event on April 29

May 12th, 2021 by Tiana Lawrence

Annually, the Mel King Institute takes part in the YWCA’s nation-wide Stand Against Racism Campaign. This campaign takes place each year during the month of April, allowing individuals and organizations to register their own unique events and be part of the movement. This year on April 29, 2021, the Mel King Institute held its largest virtual Stand Against Racism event with a total of 90 participants.

The event featured a conversation amongst Black Executive Directors in the Community Development field. Our panelists featured Emilio Dorcely, CEO of Urban Edge in Boston; Keith Fairey, President and CEO of Way Finders in Springfield; and Gail Latimore, Executive Director of Codman Square NDC in Dorchester. The dialogue was centered around what racial equity looks like for communities of color, highlighting their approaches, challenges, and opportunities. The panelists were asked to discuss what drives and keeps them committed to equity and community development work, their organizational approaches to racial equity, the challenges faced as a leader of color when engaging in racial justice at the organizational level, how they take care of themselves, and lastly, what opportunities they see for themselves and their organizations as they move forward.

In particular, the panelists shared powerful stories and insights that underscored the necessity of great leadership, strong infrastructure, racial equity work and dynamic spaces to discuss these topics.

Highlights from the panelists and moderators include:

  • Opportunities and challenges faced between and within boards, organizations, and leaders of color.
  • Acknowledgment of the racial equity journey and continuous learning.
  • The importance of remembering that we must expect non-closure when engaged in this work.
  • A leading question posed to the attendees was, “How do we do a better job, as an organization, internally, on racial equity issues?”
  • The concept of reparations was underscored, and the impact of a large and diverse staff was highlighted.
  • The challenge of individuals, communities, and leaders of color wanting to be happy but not necessarily having the tools to do so was noted.
  • Recognition was given to the dynamics, impact, and experiences of tokenism, internalized racism, and trauma as they exist in the lives of leaders and communities of color.
  • Regarding racial equity, the following comment was shared, “Moments turn to momentum and momentum turns into movements.”

The event lasted an hour and a half, and featured a context setting overview of the four levels of racism, a networking component, featured panelists, a question-and-answer portion, and lastly, participants created a word cloud capturing one word to describe what we should keep in mind while continuing to engage in racial equity and community development work. There was dynamic energy from the facilitators, panelists, and attendees.

Overall, this year’s Stand Against Racism was successful in offering a space for Black leaders in the CDC field to have honest and engaging dialogue and share their insightful experiences with racial equity work. The Mel King Institute is hoping to continue these conversations with BIPOC leaders.

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Supportive Housing Units Receive State Funds

April 7th, 2021 by Don Bianchi

On March 31st, Governor Baker, Lt. Governor Polito, and House Speaker Mariano joined Quincy Mayor Koch in Quincy to celebrate the awarding of funding to seven affordable supportive housing projects. Joined by other state officials, legislators, and affordable housing advocates, the Governor announced the award of more than $13 million in capital funding and project-based vouchers to support the production and preservation of 67 units of supportive housing for vulnerable populations, as well as 100 shelter beds.

The MA Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD), working with the Community Economic Development Assistance Corporation (CEDAC), will make available approximately $2.6 Million from the National Housing Trust Fund, in addition to $10.7 million in state bond funds through the Housing Innovations Fund and Housing Stabilization Fund.

Among the seven projects awarded funding are five sponsored by CDCs. They include:

  • Two Boston projects sponsored by Allston Brighton CDC were awarded funding: 6 Quint Avenue will be redeveloped into 14 supportive housing units, targeted toward extremely low-income (ELI) individuals in the advanced stages of addiction recovery.  Ashford Street will involve the rehabilitation and preservation of an existing 12-unit single-room occupancy (SRO) building, including improved accessibility.
  • A Place to Live- 30 Winfield Street in Worcester, sponsored by South Middlesex Opportunity Council (SMOC), will involve construction of a new 3-story building for chronically homeless single adults- including 18 studio apartments and full-time onsite case management.
  • Valley CDC will create 28 enhanced SRO units, along with office space for onsite property management and for a Resident Services coordinator, at Amherst Supportive Studio. Constructed on the site where an existing single-family home will be demolished, the building will achieve Passive House certification.
  • North Shore CDC will convert 18 unrestricted units into affordable units for homeless individuals at New Point Acquisitions in Salem. Located in 3 buildings in the Point Neighborhood close to Salem’s center, the CDC will implement supportive services, in addition to the capital improvements.

As House Speaker Ronald J. Mariano noted at the event, “the grants awarded today will support organizations that serve our most vulnerable residents and provide them with a path to safe, stable and dignified housing.  The Massachusetts House is proud to support the work of the awardees and provide opportunities for them to expand their services.”

 

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