Imagine you are living in an older building in Chittenden County. The windows are poorly insulated, mold has been detected in your apartment, and you cannot seem to get rid of the mouse problem in your unit. You have contacted the landlord, but they have not done anything to fix any of the issues. Or worse, you are afraid that if you say anything, they will raise the rent and you will be unable to afford your apartment.
One of our partner families was living in one of these apartments before they partnered with Green Mountain Habitat. The windows were old, and moisture caused mold to grow in the house. One of the young girls was suffering from severe asthma due to this infestation.
The place where you live plays a major role in your health. For individuals living in an unsafe, unkempt, substandard apartment, there are measurable impacts that can impact day-to-day life.
Although older homes and apartments are often cheaper, they are prone to more hazards than newer homes. Northwest Vermont is home to many older structures that are lacking the proper utilities or safety measures to ensure that the residents can feel secure in their house.
Poor-quality housing can be measured by structural quality of a home, clutter and cleanliness, hazards, indoor climate, and overcrowding. Additional issues can include the presence of mold, mildew, and dander. These characteristics can lead to sickness, injury, and mental health problems.
Safe and stable housing has been shown to improve overall wellbeing for all ages. Frequent moving or living in a cost-burdened household is associated with worse self-reported outcomes, which include deteriorating mental health conditions, higher suicide rates, an increased likelihood of postponing medical treatments due to cost, and cost-related nonadherence to healthcare advice and prescriptions.
For low-income households who moved into more affordable housing, primary care visits increased by 20%, which equates to a 12% decrease in Medicaid healthcare expenditures from the previous year. While this may seem contradictory, when families are in affordable housing, they do not have to choose between rent and critical healthcare needs.
Older homes are more prone to have issues with lead and black mold. According to the National Institute of Health, older homes are positively correlated with the presence of mold in the home, which increases individuals’ risk of developing asthma. Additionally, the presence of lead can contribute to developmental issues, particularly for children.
87% of homes built before 1940 have some lead-based paint, while 24% of homes built between 1960 and 1978 have some lead-based paint, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. According to the Vermont Housing Finance Agency, 58.4% of all houses in Vermont were built in or before 1979. For renters, this percentage rises to 66.1% of homes. This poses a significant risk to Vermonters, particularly those who are people of color or who are lower income, as these groups are more likely to live in substandard housing.
It is estimated that at least 12,000 homes in Chittenden County are likely to contain lead-based paint, according to the Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission. 46% of these units are rented, and between 12-14% of these units are inhabited by children under the age of 6. This group of children is particularly at risk of the danger of lead exposure.
Older homes also pose a risk to older adults and the elderly. Improving home safety resulted in a 19% reduction in fall rates. Falls can be costly healthcare situations, as hospitalizations for falls cost $30,000 on average per stay, and these costs rise with age. Repairs and safety improvements resulted in a 30% increase in the ability for older, low-income adults to perform daily activities, such as eating, dressing, and bathing.
Issues regarding housing quality and affordability are exacerbated for people of color. Historic events and hundreds of years of housing discrimination still impact families today. Black and Hispanic households are more than twice as likely to live in substandard housing as compared to white households.
Black and Hispanic families are more likely to live in neighborhoods with environmental hazards due to historic discriminatory zoning regulations. Black families in low-income neighborhoods have been shown to have 3.3 times the average toxicity level of environmental hazards, as compared to an all-white neighborhood. Studies have also shown that the risk of exposure to pollutants rises as the percentage of Hispanic and Latino households in a neighborhood rises.
How Green Mountain Habitat helps
Now picture this: you are in a new home without mold, mice, or safety hazards. You do not have to worry about being careful when you walk down the basement stairs. Your child is having fewer asthma attacks. You get sick less, and you are able to go to the doctor every year for a check-up because you are not choosing between paying rent and healthcare.
“Families in Habitat homes are healthier when they don’t have to choose between paying for a doctor visit or putting food on the table, and their housing costs,” said David Mullin, CEO of Green Mountain Habitat for Humanity.
Green Mountain Habitat for Humanity builds high quality homes with partner families that are free from the hazards, pests, and toxins of their previous living situations. The homes are well insulated and up to standards to ensure that families, especially their children, are able to live in a safe environment.
Unlike for-profit developers who are motivated by profit, we can take the time to build our homes with precision and attention to detail. We ensure that our homes are built to high standards, which includes tightly sealing all corners of the home to prevent excess moisture, pests, and other external environmental hazards from entering the home. We meticulously secure the homes and build carefully so that our families will feel safe.
One of the ways Green Mountain Habitat achieves this is through tight insulation. The homes we build include air exchange systems, which intake fresh air from outside, clean and filter it, and blow it back into the home for a constant stream of purified airflow. Its primary purpose is to exchange stale indoor air with fresh outdoor air while maintaining the desired indoor temperature and humidity levels.
Prior to the home being built, we also conduct environmental assessments on the property. Environmental assessments include site history research, site investigations, and government database reviews for any potential hazards. This helps us to address any environmental risks and ensure that the location will not be harmful to the homeowner. We are able to mitigate those hazards prior to construction.
“These aren’t just houses. These are families’ futures and the opportunity for them to become more independent and secure,” said Mullin.
Housing is such an important aspect of our lives, as we eat, sleep, and play at home. It is where we create memories and spend time with our families. Home is a place that is supposed to keep us safe and not harm us. For families struggling to afford their current residence, it can be so devastating to live in a place that is not secure.
Join our mission to bring affordable housing to families across Northwest Vermont. With your help, we can improve families’ health and lives.
To learn more about the impact of homeownership on health, check out Habitat for Humanity’s evidence brief on healthcare and housing.