In early 2012, the District Department of the Environment (DDOE) launched the District’s first full-fledged Healthy Homes Program. The Healthy Homes Program is a public-private partnership that identifies and assesses environmental health threats to children and pregnant women and provides customized solutions to eliminate them. Through this program, DDOE evaluates hazardous homes with children aged 18 years and under who have been hospitalized with asthma, as well as homes with at-risk younger children or pregnant women.
In the District of Columbia, more than 400 children are hospitalized due to asthma problems each year. Many of these children’s severe asthma problems result from exposure to environmental hazards such as mold, major infestations of rodents and insects, poor ventilation, and allergens that trigger asthma attacks in the home. Other hazards identified and mitigated through the Healthy Homes program include carbon monoxide, lead, and asbestos. Though such hazards historically have been addressed through a variety of District agency programs, this is the first time the District is engaging in a consolidated, holistic approach.
DDOE performs home assessments using certified Healthy Homes Specialists. The assessments form the basis for strategic case management in which existing District grant programs and code enforcement efforts are leveraged to ensure quick repairs or customized solutions to eliminate them. In a select number of cases, DDOE and its program partner, the National Nursing Centers Consortium, will provide up to $7,000 to fund hazard mitigation.
Referrals for the program come from local healthcare providers, such as Children’s National Medical Center, and from sister agencies, including the Department of Human Services’ Strong Families program and the Department of Health’s Healthy Start program, both of which refer cases to DDOE involving the presence of severe environmental hazards (i.e., mold, deteriorating paint, safety hazards, pest infestations) identified in the homes of at-risk families.
After DDOE conducts its home assessments and provides its analysis of the home health threats it identifies in each home, DDOE may issue referrals to two other sister agencies that are collaborative partners in this pilot program: the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, to follow up on any pressing code enforcement concerns, and the Department of Housing and Community Development, for potential enrollment in home repair and/or lead abatement grant programs.
This program serves not only those District residents whose homes contain hazards, but also serves to educate the referring agencies about the hazards found, thus resulting in a broader, District-wide understanding of the environmental health threats found in the nation’s capital, how best to eliminate them, and how to better communicate about health risks with District residents. The impact of the program is therefore potentially much greater than simply curing problems in individual homes.
To further support this program, DDOE has also launched an interactive webpage on home hazards that result in health problems. The site helps District residents obtain information about health risks that exist within their home environment. The site includes healthy homes topics such as lead, mold, second-hand smoke, and pest infestations and radon, and features an interactive house that details the different areas of the home where hazards such as carbon monoxide may be found. To access the interactive webpage, visit www.dchealthyhomes.com.
Results to Date:
- DDOE published the District’s first-ever Strategic Plan for Lead-Safe and Healthy Homes, a five-year roadmap for improving the sustainability of the city’s housing stock and ensuring that indoor environmental hazards are remediated.
- The program is using the “Healthy Homes and Lead Poisoning Surveillance System,” a new and improved federal database created by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Staff can now record the presence of a variety of environmental health threats or other characteristics of child-occupied housing to help prevent exposure of children to these threats. The District is the first jurisdiction in the nation to use this new CDC-developed database.
- Through its early work, the program has engaged the District of Columbia Housing Authority (DCHA), and the two agencies are working collaboratively to solve environmental issues identified by the Healthy Homes Program in the District’s public and assisted housing stock.
- The program’s early work has also attracted the attention of federal agencies. Both the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Housing Urban Development have contacted the Healthy Homes Program to discuss a potential joint partnership with DCHA, focused on institutionalizing Integrated Pest Management techniques in the District’s public housing maintenance practices. The impact of such a partnership would be tremendous, as it would provide a system-wide change in the delivery of needed services to all residents in the District’s public and assisted housing stock.
Associate Director, Lead and Healthy Housing
District Department of the Environment