VOL. 132 | NO. 238 | Friday, December 1, 2017
Coalition Signs on With Green & Healthy Homes Initiative
By Michael Waddell
Leaders from Memphis and Shelby County and representatives from nearly 25 partner organizations signed an agreement Thursday morning, Nov. 30, at the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library in East Memphis to work together on Tennessee’s first Green & Healthy Homes Initiative (GHHI) led by the Baltimore-based organization.
Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital, though its work treating local children with asthma-related conditions, spearheaded the effort to form the coalition.
The National Center for Healthy Housing ranks the Memphis MSA worst out of 45 metro areas for unhealthy housing. Subpar housing has been linked to poor health outcomes, high utility bills, evictions, and lower academic achievement for children who have lead poisoning or asthma.
Poisoning caused by lead paint in pre-1978 housing, and chronic asthma triggered by pests like roaches and rats and mold from water leaks are more common among residents of substandard housing in poorer neighborhoods.
Thursday’s discussion centered on how to improve the ecosystem to make children healthier and improve the quality of housing for families.
“What I would like to see … is an easier system for citizens to be able to navigate and get the support that they need so that their children have better health outcomes, that families are stable, and that they know where to go to get resources,” said Paul Young, director of Housing and Community Development for the city of Memphis.
Young touted programs by the city and county focused on weatherization, fixing lead-paint issues and utility assistance, as well as Habitat for Humanity’s Aging in Place housing program.
“I often say we don’t necessarily have an affordable housing problem in this community, we have a quality affordable housing problem,” Young said.
Partners on the new initiative include government, health, housing and social service organizations, which will work together to establish a framework that will address housing services, assets, barriers and ways to improve coordination of housing programs.
Participating organizations include BLDG Memphis, Habitat for Humanity, Memphis Bioworks Foundation, Memphis NAACP, Neighborhood Preservation Inc., United Housing Inc., Tennessee Valley Authority, Memphis Area Legal Services, Memphis Lead Safe Collaborative, Memphis Light, Gas and Water Division, Safeways Inc., the Shelby County Health Department, and the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law.
Asthma is the most chronic childhood disease and a leading reason that children are admitted to Le Bonheur. To fight the epidemic, in 2012 Le Bonheur established an evidence-based program, CHAMP (Changing High-Risk Asthma in Memphis through Partnership) focused on treating asthma and preventing multiple hospital visits for at-risk children in living in poverty.
“We knew how to treat their asthma – we’re really good at treating asthma – but what we learned through the course of the CHAMP’s program was that we were sending these well-cared for, well-treated children back into an environment where their housing was absolutely substandard,” said Le Bonheur president and CEO Meri Armour. “When you talk about a Christ child being in the manger with straw, that’s really how some of these children were sleeping – on the floor, on straw mats, no beds, sometimes no blanket, with pests, mold and infestation.”
The CHAMP program reduced hospitalizations by 70 percent for enrolled children over five years.
Many health problems caused by poor housing conditions are preventable. In most cases, they can be corrected by targeted improvements that focus on making homes lead-safe, dry, pest-free, well-ventilated, safe, maintained, clean and energy-efficient.
“Memphis happens to be the asthma capital of the nation, and children here suffer significantly from a disease that really creates morbidity and often times mortality, for children,” Armour said.
After recognizing the severity and scale of the problem, a coalition of agencies began to collaborate in 2014 to change how substandard housing is addressed.
The Healthy Homes Partnership (HHP) was established by Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital, the city’s Division of Housing and Community Development, the University of Memphis law school and several other agencies.
HHP has expanded to include dozens of organizations representing the housing, public health, legal services, home energy efficiency, neighborhood preservation, and workforce development sectors. In 2016, the coalition began seeking technical assistance from the Green & Healthy Homes Initiative.
“As climate risks continue to pose risks to our communities like extreme heat and flooding, and become more prevalent in the future, these stress vulnerabilities like unhealthy and inefficient housing disproportionately impact those in our community with the least means,” said John Zeanah, Memphis and Shelby County Planning and Development deputy director. “This compact is a positive step toward aligning those efforts, coordinating across public and nonprofit sectors to address these issues.”
In a recent survey conducted by the Health Department, 63 percent of respondents felt that poverty was a significant issue in their community in Shelby County.
“We know that poverty and conditions of housing, whether it’s affordability, the quality, or the location of housing, really determines health outcomes as well as longevity,” said Dr. Alisa Haushalter, director of the Memphis and Shelby County Health Department.
Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland shared a personal connection to the initiative with attendees.
“I have asthma,” he said. “The outside environment is really hard for someone with asthma. If the indoor environment is hard, I can’t imagine how tough it is for a young person.”
Memphis becomes the 24th city to sign the compact for GHHI and the 33rd city to join the GHHI network.
“The kids in Memphis, families in Memphis, and seniors in Memphis are going to be far better off from this day forward,” said GHHI president and CEO Ruth Ann Norton. “Families that we were working directly with in Baltimore were losing 23 days’ worth of time just trying to chase the solutions for their problems, not to mention the number of days they missed because their kids are going to the hospital or because their children can’t sleep through the night.”
In July, Le Bonheur received a $200,000 grant from the Kresge Foundation to establish a full-time local GHHI staff position and provide support for ongoing technical assistance from GHHI.