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New York City’s other major housing crisis

Cecil Corbin-Mark and Peggy Shepard | 3/2/2017, 11:50 a.m.
New York City is currently in an affordable housing crisis, but there is another housing crisis that does not regularly ...
Asthma inhaler

New York City is currently in an affordable housing crisis, but there is another housing crisis that does not regularly make headlines. Asthma affects more than 1 million New Yorkers, and poor housing exacerbates the problem. And like the affordability crisis, the crisis of poorly maintained housing also includes a metaphorical tale of two cities.

The good news is that there is a bill in the City Council, the Asthma Free Homes Bill (Intro 385-A), that would allow Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, the other members of the City Council and Mayor Bill de Blasio to protect 1 million vulnerable New Yorkers from housing filled with mold and other triggers for respiratory illnesses. The bad news is that the bill was introduced in 2014 and has not moved since its introduction.

Studies conducted by researchers at Columbia University, Mt. Sinai and other leading public health institutions dating back almost two decades established that poor housing conditions are associated with a wide range of health conditions, including respiratory infections, asthma, lead poisoning and poor mental health. However, many New Yorkers don’t need these studies as proof that the conditions they live in are not healthy. They can describe the mold and other triggers in their apartments that are making them sick, or the countless times they have rushed to an emergency room with a breathless child, or the many times they have had to reach for an inhaler or pump while in their homes. These New Yorkers are suffering in silence with asthma, other respiratory illnesses and various health issues that are exacerbated by mold, leaks and rodent infestation, while the Asthma Free Homes Bill (Intro 385-A) sits in committee and gets hacked apart by the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development. Just ask WE ACT for Environmental Justice member Michelle Holmes, who lives in Central Harlem and was diagnosed with neuropathy after 18 years of living in a mold-infested apartment.

The Asthma Free Homes Bill (Intro 385-A) was introduced by Councilmember Rosie Mendez, Richie Torres and Corey Johnson, and supported by the citywide Coalition for Asthma Free Housing. The bill is meant to establish a consistent protocol for addressing indoor allergen hazards (mold, pest infestation, etc.) in rental units and demands accountability from landlords by establishing clear timelines for eliminating the hazards. Additionally, it calls for technical education for landlords and creates a public awareness campaign. If passed, this bill would place the burden of responsibility on a landlord to determine which units in his/her building have tenants with diagnosed respiratory illnesses and investigate any complaints of mold and other allergens, and seek resolution of those hazards by a certain date. The bill would also require the landlord to provide a notice to all tenants who sign a lease that informs them of their rights, as well as a pamphlet developed by the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene explaining how to identify indoor allergen hazards and the proper protocols to follow for their correction.

The health of all New Yorkers should be a top priority of the City Council and the mayor, especially given the threats to the Affordable Care Act posed by our new president and the Republican-controlled U.S Congress. Neighborhoods such as East Harlem, Flatbush, the Lower East Side, Bushwick and the South Bronx—already burdened with greater rates of disease, limited access to health care and other health disparities—are also the places with the worst housing conditions. These neighborhoods, and many more, need Intro 385-A passed and signed into law so the tale of two cities ends. Currently, 45 members of the City Council have signed on to support the Asthma Free Homes Bill. Surely getting this bill passed and signed cannot be too difficult for the most progressive speaker, City Council and mayor in the country, especially in an election year.