Healthy Housing

Building for Health

By: Marcus Smith

Workers from Connecticut Children’s Healthy Homes Program routinely assess qualifying homes for lead, health hazards and safety concerns and install repairs to address the issues. We visit with dozens of families each year to understand and address their healthy housing concerns.

When visiting or working in homes, our team often notices additional housing-related concerns but, until recently, had no path to address them. Heating systems that are not working. Drafty windows and doors. Occupants who smoke. Children with asthma or allergies. Older refrigerators or incandescent light bulbs. Unemployment. The list goes on.

When team members returned from visit after visit frustrated at being unable to refer families to additional agencies that could help them, we realized we needed to develop a solution. We needed to be able to fix the identified concerns discovered at each home, as well as fix the overall system that makes getting help for families so challenging.

Our solution is called Building for Health.

Following a call-to-action from the Hartford office of Local Initiative Support Corporation (LISC), we gathered with different stakeholders to discuss what a health, housing, and energy partnership would look like, working with the Southside Institutions Neighborhood Alliance (SINA), local utilities, local housing development agencies, counseling providers, asthma management organizations, care coordinators and others.

We asked many questions.

How might we create a community-focused, “no wrong door” model for detecting opportunities where home upgrades or services are needed, and then refer and link households to relevant supports that are in line with their perceived needs?

What if our Healthy Homes team members could refer families to local utilities for energy audits or help fix their broken heating systems? What if that referral could help reduce the typical paperwork required to qualify for a “sister” program?

What if utility workers could refer families to Healthy Homes to address moisture issues that cause or exacerbate asthma or remediate peeling paint inside and outside of homes, knowing that one in three homes served by low-income energy programs are likely to have lead issues?

What if medical or counseling providers could refer unemployed parents to SINA for job training and employment opportunities?

Successful cross-referral models are in place elsewhere, including Vermont where a statewide coalition helped develop and test the One Touch model, which provides lower income families receiving energy upgrades with connections to additional health and social services. Certainly, such a model could work here in Connecticut too.

We decided to focus our Building for Health pilot project in the Frog Hollow neighborhood in Hartford’s south end. We adopted a 10-minute digital survey, similar to Vermont’s, that workers from Healthy Homes and our partner agencies could administer to each family they work with to determine if families could benefit from additional services.

During the voluntary survey, workers ask families a number of questions including whether homes have:

  • plumbing or roof leaks
  • roaches, mice or bedbugs
  • peeling or cracked paint
  • working smoke detectors
  • exposed electrical wiring
  • railings for stairs or porches
  • a working heating system
  • space heaters
  • ice dams
  • storm windows
  • incandescent light bulbs
  • a refrigerator that is more than 10 years old

Thanks to generous support from LISC, through the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, we recently mobilized to begin administering the surveys. So far, our cross-sector team has engaged with 10 families to discuss a wide range of services, from home energy audits to healthy housing interventions.

Our Healthy Homes team members are already feeling more empowered to help families, including Maria Guzman who has administered the survey to several families.

“I’ve been able to connect families to resources that they previously did not have access to or did not know existed, such as the weatherization program,” said Guzman. “Also, families feel like they are being heard and respected. They no longer have to simply put up with challenging living conditions, transportation issues, and other concerns because now they know there are options available.”

We are excited for this pilot project to make an impact on residents in the Frog Hollow neighborhood. Once successful, we hope to expand the program to North Hartford and eventually envision it spreading across the state.

The link between quality housing and health outcomes for all residents, especially young children, is clear. We must do all we can to elevate housing as a platform for health to enhance outcomes not only in the early years, but across entire lifespans.

Read more of our Healthy Housing blogs here.

Marcus Smith is the senior manager of Connecticut Children’s Healthy Homes Program, which is a program of Connecticut Children’s Office for Community Child Health.

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