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Know Your Rights
Source: Make the Road New York
Subject: Health Justice & Access
Type: Press Advisory

Report: Poor Housing Conditions Harming Asthmatic New Yorkers

PRESS ADVISORY from Make the Road New York

For Immediate Release:
Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Contact: Tim Bradley
              BerlinRosen Public Affairs


Poor Housing Conditions Harming Asthmatic New Yorkers


New York
– Today the Coalition for Asthma-Free Homes, a multi-borough coalition of
health, housing and environmental advocates, was joined by Public Advocate
Betsy Gotbaum and Councilmember Rosie Mendez to a release a report documenting
how asthma triggers in New Yorkers’ homes – combined with a lack of enforceable
guidelines to curb them – are contributing greatly to the city’s high asthma
rates. Citing several studies that link asthma with poor housing conditions,
the report calls for the passage of the Asthma-Free Housing Act, Intro 750,
which would strengthen the City’s code enforcement system to reduce indoor
allergens, like cockroaches, mold and mice, in asthmatic tenants’ residences.


Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum said: "This is a
clear-cut public health issue. No one with asthma – a group that includes a
large number of New York City
children – should have to live in an apartment with health hazards like pests
and mold. Today’s report shows an undeniable relationship between indoor
allergens and high asthma rates, and makes it clear that the current city law
has failed to protect New Yorkers from those allergens."


Councilmember Rosie Mendez said: "This administration
has taken some ambitious steps to improve the public health in New York City.  There
have been major efforts to cut smoking rates and reduce obesity, but asthma is
a particularly dangerous threat to children – especially in poor
communities.  It’s time to address asthma triggers where children live.
The Asthma Free Housing Act will save lives."


With 25 sponsors in the City Council, Intro 750 would require apartment owners with tenants susceptible to
respiratory problems to inspect dwellings for indoor allergen hazards and
remove them. It would also require the Department of Housing
Preservation and Development (HPD) to inspect dwellings for asthma allergens upon
complaints from asthmatic tenants, issue C-level violations for hazardous
violations, and remedy these violations when a landlord does not. While HPD
considers some conditions to violate the Housing Maintenance Code, there is currently
no enforceable protocol for assessing and remedying such conditions.


Harvey Epstein,
Director of the Community Development Project at the Urban Justice Center
said: "The link between asthma and housing conditions is undeniable. A housing
code enforcement system that does not recognize this link leaves asthmatic New
Yorkers stuck in homes where they are unable to breathe. This report helps
connect the dots between cause and effect."


Artemio Guerra,
Director of Organizing and Advocacy for the Fifth Avenue Committee said: "Cockroaches, mice
infestations and mold are the top three allergens found in homes and are an
immediate threat to the health of asthmatic tenants, yet these triggers are
seldom classified as housing violations. It’s time to change that."


As the report documents, New York City has the highest
asthma rate in the country, asthma is the leading cause of school absences and
it is the most common cause of hospitalization in the city. Over 300,000 New York City children
have asthma, and roughly 80% of asthma found in them is triggered by exposure
to asthma allergens.


Cockroach infestations – a leading asthma trigger – are most
severe in low-income neighborhoods in upper Manhattan,
Brooklyn and the Bronx.


Jesse Goldman, Environmental
Justice Organizer of Make the Road New York
said: "In New York City, low-income people of color
have the highest incidence of asthma. About 22 percent of children in low-income
neighborhoods have asthma, compared to 14 percent in high-income neighborhoods.
Low-income Latinos are twice as likely to suffer from asthma than any other
group in the city."


Bushwick resident
Luisa Mejia
was recently
hospitalized for several days in Woodhull
Hospital for an asthma
attack, and her son, daughter and granddaughter all have severe asthma. "There
is a lot of mold in our bathroom, and the landlord refuses to fix the leak that
causes it. Instead, he sends workers to paint over the mold.  After a few weeks the mold comes back. There
is also a major roach and mice infestation in the building." Ms. Mejia’s
landlord has not corrected the mold and vermin violations that trigger her
families’ asthma despite several complaints.


Bronx resident Teanna Price is a 25 year old single mother with a 4 month old son. In
March, she brought her son to Jacobi
Medical Center
for a bad cough. "My son was diagnosed with bronchiolitis and his doctor thinks
our apartment conditions, like peeling paint, might be contributing to the
problem. We’ve had to go to court to get the landlord to fix things. There
should be better protections to prevent these potentially lifelong problems."


Other details of the legislation:

  • Even in apartments without susceptible persons,
    visible mold would be a B violation, and a C violation if in excess of 10
    square feet in any one room or 50 square feet in total (current threshold is 25
    square feet in any one room); similar provisions would apply to common areas.

  • Landlords would be required to correct indoor
    allergen hazards and underlying defects upon turnover of vacant apartments.

  • After HPD serves a violation, landlords would
    have 21 days to make repairs using safe work practices, or up to 60 days in
    certain circumstances if needed.

  • The DHMH and HPD would create a system to allow
    health professionals — upon consent of asthma patients — to request the DHMH
    investigate possible indoor allergen hazards.

  • Removal of indoor allergen hazards would be done
    according to rules established by HPD with the approval of DHMH.  The Coalition urges the use of Integrated
    Pest Management systems for hazard removal, which do not use toxic pesticides.

The Coalition for Asthma-Free Homes (CAFH) includes the
American Lung Association in New York, Fifth
Avenue Committee, Make the Road New York, New York Immigration Coalition,
Northern Manhattan Improvement Corporation, Urban Justice
Center, and We Act for
Environmental Justice. Additional co-sponsors of the bill include
Councilmembers Avella, Baez, Barron, Brewer, Foster, Gerson, Gioia, Gonzalez, Jackson, James,
Koppell, Liu, Mark-Viverito, Martinez, Mealy, Palma, Recchia, Reyna,
Seabrook, Stewart, Vann and Yassky.


"The Impact of Poor Housing Conditions on the Health of
Asthmatic New Yorkers" can be found here: