Making Homes Healthier and More Energy Efficient in Baltimore

Posted September 30, 2009
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Tarsha Mitchellwithkids

For years, Tar­sha Mitchell rushed her old­est child, who suf­fers from asth­ma, to the hos­pi­tal. We’re well known in the emer­gency room,” she says.

But that is chang­ing, thanks to home repairs designed to reduce health and safe­ty haz­ards in the 104-year-old Bal­ti­more house where Mitchell lives with her hus­band and four chil­dren. The work was done by Safe at Home, a Casey-sup­port­ed pro­gram pro­vid­ing free repairs to the homes of asth­ma-diag­nosed chil­dren in Bal­ti­more City.

They did a lot of work,” says Mitchell, whose five-year-old also has asth­ma. Since then, we have not had any prob­lems with asth­ma. It helped keep the dust down, the air clean, and we can open the liv­ing room win­dow to air the place out. It’s been very helpful.”

Since 2000, Safe at Home has helped thou­sands of chil­dren by reduc­ing home-based asth­ma trig­gers, safe­ty threats, and lead-based paint haz­ards that cause ill­ness and injury. We’re try­ing to reduce the num­ber of asth­ma episodes, school absences, and emer­gency room vis­its,” says Wes Stew­art, pro­gram ser­vices direc­tor at the Nation­al Coali­tion to End Child­hood Lead Poi­son­ing based in Baltimore.

The coali­tion and the Casey Foun­da­tion are encour­ag­ing pol­i­cy­mak­ers — from the White House to local com­mu­ni­ties — to incor­po­rate this healthy-homes” work into weath­er­iza­tion and ener­gy-effi­cien­cy projects fund­ed by the fed­er­al stim­u­lus package.

We are try­ing to ensure that the green, ener­gy effi­cien­cy move­ment does not leave hous­es unhealthy but instead ensures a triple bot­tom-line of health­i­er hous­ing, strong green jobs oppor­tu­ni­ties, and bet­ter out­comes for chil­dren,” says Ruth Ann Nor­ton, the coalition’s exec­u­tive director.

As we go through hun­dreds of thou­sands of hous­ing units over the next year with stim­u­lus funds, we want to ensure that the work­ers, res­i­dents, and homes are safe from poten­tial haz­ards that are present or could be exac­er­bat­ed by such a huge inter­ven­tion. With­out healthy hous­ing and lead safe­ty stan­dards, you could spend mil­lions of dol­lars in neigh­bor­hoods to cre­ate quick shov­el-ready jobs but cause lots of harm.”

Tarsha Mitchell, Warren Matthews and daughters Shaw’dae, 16, Tekiyah and Mekaylah in front of their Baltimore home.

Casey also is fund­ing the coali­tion to pro­vide sup­port and advice to help cities where Casey is heav­i­ly involved to pur­sue healthy-homes work. This har­mo­nizes with our respon­si­ble rede­vel­op­ment vision and want­i­ng to have strong neigh­bor­hoods to sup­port strong fam­i­lies that ulti­mate­ly sup­port strong kids,” says Salin Gee­vargh­ese, a Casey senior asso­ciate. The healthy-homes work sup­ports Casey’s two-gen­er­a­tion approach to reduc­ing pover­ty, encom­pass­ing efforts to improve the eco­nom­ic sta­bil­i­ty and suc­cess of low-income par­ents while ensur­ing that their chil­dren are healthy and pre­pared to suc­ceed in school and become pro­duc­tive citizens.

A lead-poi­soned child is sev­en times more like­ly to drop out of school, and over 14 mil­lion school days are missed year­ly by chil­dren due to asth­ma attacks. Adding a healthy-homes com­po­nent to weath­er­iza­tion work also cre­ates a pipeline for low income peo­ple to obtain skills and get high­er pay­ing, more sus­tain­able jobs. With skills in lead-safe work prac­tices and healthy-hous­ing train­ing, we can move work­ers from $9 an hour to $16 to $21,” Nor­ton notes.

These efforts result­ed in a health­i­er home for Mitchell and her fam­i­ly, with lead haz­ards reduced by remov­ing chip­ping and peel­ing lead-based paint and repaint­ing, and by replac­ing lead-based win­dows. In addi­tion, a smoke alarm with nine-year lithi­um bat­ter­ies, a car­bon monox­ide detec­tor, and elec­tri­cal out­let caps were installed to reduce injury haz­ards; leaks and holes were repaired to reduce aller­gen-caus­ing mold and pests; and the fam­i­ly received spe­cial mat­tress pads and pil­low cov­ers and a high-effi­cien­cy vac­u­um clean­er to reduce dust mites. An air fil­ter­ing unit was also installed in the children’s bedroom.

It’s a health­i­er envi­ron­ment for all of us,” says Mitchell.

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