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Know Your Rights
Source: RaceWire
Subject: Housing & Environmental Justice
Type: Media Coverage

To breathe free

The connection between housing and
child development has attracted considerable public fascination—most recently
with the dissection of how young Sonia Sotomayor, growing up in a Bronx housing project, “overcame the odds.”


One New York advocacy group
is putting a spotlight on kids today who struggle to overcome the odds just to
breathe. In a report on housing conditions and asthma,
Make the Road New York says families of color are made more vulnerable to asthma
by suffocatingly substandard housing conditions—apartments marred with
crumbling walls, roaches, and moldy air. City health authorities have reported
epidemic asthma rates in adults and children, with clear links to race. As the
leading cause of school absence and hospitalization for children 14 years and
younger, the illness aggravates a multitude of other economic and educational
hardships in Black and Latino neighborhoods.


The report
reflects the findings of an in-depth 2008 study linking asthma not only to race
and ethnicity, but also to poor housing conditions and living environments. The
community’s “cohesion” makes a difference as well: fears about being out on the
street may force parents to keep their children in the house, exposing them to
internal threats instead.


Make the Road outlined the story of Brooklyn mother Luisa Mejia to illustrate how even direct
evidence of health harms fails to spur action from a landlord:


Her son, her daughter, her
granddaughter, and Ms. Mejia all have severe asthma. Ms. Mejia was recently
hospitalized for several days in Woodhull
for an asthma
attack. The deplorable housing conditions in her building exacerbate her and
her families’ asthma. There is a lot of mold in her bathroom. The landlord refuses
to fix the leak that causes the mold. Instead, he sends workers to merely
paints over the mold. After a few weeks the mold comes back again. There is
also a major roach and mice infestation in the building. During the past two
years, Ms. Mejia has sued her landlord several times in Housing Court in order to try to get
repairs made in her apartment. However, her landlord still has not corrected
the mold and vermin violations that trigger her families’ asthma.


To address
the asthma epidemic, the city has established public health programs and
protocols for remediating indoor mold and pests. But
Make the Road
says current environmental protections are too weak to protect tenants, and
urges new legislation to compel landlords to take special precautions for
residents with asthma.


inspiring tales of New Yorkers beating the odds, the city has a long way to go
meet the most elemental needs of its disadvantaged children—often as basic as
taking a deep breath.