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A Path to Resilient Homes

Staff Perspective Belén Seara

Greetings Get Healthy SMC Partners,

Last year, the Built Environment Committee (BEC) of BARHII, which is the Bay Area coalition of public health departments, has been exploring the intersection of habitability and community resiliency. Environmental factors such as extended heat waves and severe weather caused by climate change exposes those who reside in substandard households to higher health risks such as heat-related illnesses or death.

I’d like to share some key lessons and resources that we learned from experts in the sustainability, code enforcement, and healthy housing fields that will inform the work of the committee this year:

o   The data available to assess housing conditions is fragmented. It lives in different departments that are in charge of enforcing zoning, building, health and safety and environmental standards and laws.  The National Center for Healthy Housing provides a framework and key tools to develop local healthy housing profiles that communities can create to assess the health of their housing stock and make it easier to design measures to improve the quality of housing that results in improving community health.

o   Sustainability and health services funding and services exist in silos and are not flexible to address health conditions. To address this issue and improve coordination among energy efficiency programs, health delivery programs, and housing programs, a group of community organizations, public agencies, and philanthropic groups launched the Green and Healthy Homes Initiative Marin. This initiative aims to be a one-stop shop for low-income residents to access housing upgrade and repair resources and information that ultimately impacts resident health and well-being.

o   Punitive code enforcement models may negatively impact low-income homeowners and renters who are more vulnerable to displacement and financial insecurity if code enforcement activities are not paired with home improvement resources to help mitigate the violation. More jurisdictions are adopting cooperative compliance models to improve the quality of their housing stock and safeguard residents’ health while ensuring tenants and low-income homeowners can remain adequately housed.

This year, Health Policy and Planning staff will continue to advance healthy homes through our work with partners such as Rebuilding Together Peninsula, who is supporting East Palo Alto low-income homeowners in bringing garage conversions up to code. Regionally, we will work through BEC to outline some next steps to build upon what we learned last year. Stay tuned!