Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance: Good Housing is Needed for Good Health

By Emily Walsh community outreach director for the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance

According to The National Center for Health in Public Housing, over 2 million residents live in public housing across the country.  Public housing was initially developed to offer safe, decent rental homes for the lowest income households – roughly 36% of public housing households include someone with disabilities; 37% are children, and 16% are seniors.  The average yearly household income of this population is $13,984, which is well below the federal poverty line.

Public housing was first put in place to help the poorest households by offering them rent they could actually afford, which, in turn, provides them with an opportunity to get back on their feet.  But inadequate federal funding and attention in recent years are seriously undermining the program’s intent. Since 2010, Congress has cut the budget for public housing repairs in half. Information from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities states that the sheer number of public housing units has decreased by over 250,000 since the mid-1990s.  As the Center explains, this significant drop is “mainly because housing agencies have demolished or otherwise removed units from stock, due to deterioration resulting from long-term underfunding and other factors.  Only a small share of the removed units have been replaced with new public housing.”

The consequences of this disinvestment don’t just impact the economic prospects of low-income households, but also their general health and wellbeing.  Studies worldwide have clearly shown that substandard housing – whether subsidized or not – can have profound negative effects on health.

Take, for instance, the established link between asbestos and mesothelioma.  The use of asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) peaked between the 1930s and 1980s, though it was used for centuries before 1930 and still remains in small percentages in materials produced today.  Asbestos was once considered a miracle mineral of the early 20th century, renowned for its tensile strength, flame and heat retardant properties, and low cost.  It was used pervasively as a way to cut the costs of building and maintaining housing properties.  Unfortunately, asbestos is also well-known for being the sole cause of the dangerous cancer mesothelioma, as well as asbestosis and occasionally lung cancer.  Despite these terrible health impacts, asbestos was used liberally throughout these years and remains in many buildings to this day. Low-income housing properties are a prime suspect for still having ACMs present because US law doesn’t specifically prohibit the mineral, as long as it is kept in good repair.

Elderly people are most at risk for developing mesothelioma and other health ailments, due to their longer exposures to toxins and degrading immune systems.  Seniors make up a large percentage of public housing residents, making them a large worry for contracting mesothelioma or other diseases. Other health threats posed by substandard housing include lead poisoning, collapse or general infrastructure failure, mold, and poor air quality.

Everyone deserves to live in a home where their health isn’t consistently at risk, but that isn’t always the case. Residents of these properties can ask their landlords to get their buildings checked for toxins and structural issues since landlords have a legal duty to maintaining their properties in livable conditions.  However, many landlords are either unable to make these repairs or unwilling.  Additionally, a lack of government resources to support these upgrades makes these repairs even more difficult. Investing in the safe renovation of these communities would have a large positive impact on the residents and the community.

 In addition to physical health and well-being, it is not difficult to imagine the toll subpar living conditions could take on a person’s mental health as well.  According to a 2015 study by the MacArthur Foundation, which focused on 371 low-income families in the Bronx who lived in public housing or used a federal housing voucher, “poor housing conditions are associated with more depressive symptomology and hostility.”

Housing that is affordable, especially for the most vulnerable low-income households, is badly needed across the country.  But we must make the necessary investments to ensure that affordable housing is also safe, decent, and healthy to live in.  Research shows that carefully planned and well-maintained affordable housing can have a positive effect on the health outcomes of residents. That’s why housing and health partnerships have formed through the Opportunity Starts at Home campaign to advocate for more robust and equitable federal housing policies.

In the campaign’s newly released policy agenda called “Within Reach,”  the campaign calls for a substantial expansion of the supply of affordable housing, a substantial expansion of rental assistance, and the creation of a new national program that provides emergency assistance to households during a crisis. Through these powerful new multi-sector partnerships and an ambitious policy agenda, the campaign hopes to elevate housing affordability and its health implications to a national conversation.

Health care advocates are housing advocates.  We must make adequate investments to ensure that affordable housing is also healthy housing.

This blog was written by the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance for the Opportunity Starts at Home campaign of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. 

Members Open the Door to Building the Fair Housing Movement

By Tori Bourret, NLIHC housing advocacy organizer

Today is the last Friday of Membership Month! We want to thank all our members who are growing the movement to expand affordable homes across the country. Some of our members are doing this by bringing people together to discuss fair housing issues and to figure out ways to solve these challenges. NLIHC has helped some of our members in this work by sharing our knowledge of fair housing policies and ways to deal with obstructions to fair housing brought by the current administration.

This past April, I attended “Building the Next Generation of Diverse Arkansas Communities”. A conference hosted by NLIHC member organization the Arkansas Fair Housing Commission. I spoke as a panelist on the status of fair housing in Arkansas and the United States. I discussed why source of income should be protected under the Fair Housing Act, and how the administration is weakening the Fair Housing Act and delaying implementation of the affirmatively furthering fair housing rule.

It was great to be able to contribute to the conference by offering some additional resources on the fair housing discussion and connecting local issues to federal legislation. It was impactful to see how groups are coming together to learn from each other and inspire each other to keep pushing for equality for all.

Tori in AR

The opening plenary on the last day of the “Building the Next Generation of Diverse Arkansas Communities” Conference. Panelists include: Mayra Joachin, National Immigration Law Center; Sara Oliver, Arkansas Housing Trust Fund; Frederick Love, Director of Community Services Pulaski County; and Victoria Bourret, National Low Income Housing Coalition.

NLIHC staff would not have the opportunity to be in the field and have important discussions with local advocates if not for the support and contributions of our members. Consider joining today!


This blog is part of a series of blogs highlighting NLIHC member-driven advocacy successes for Membership Month. Find out more about Membership Month at: 

Members Open the Door to a Growing Movement

By Tori Bourret, NLIHC housing advocacy organizer

We are in the last week of NLIHC’s Membership Month. This week we are highlighting the ways our members open the door to a growing movement. Our members and partners involve NLIHC in policy events throughout the country. For NLIHC staff this is an opportunity to learn more about housing challenges in local communities. For local advocates, NLIHC provides ways to address affordable housing shortages through federal policy and advocacy work. Recently, I was invited by organization member, Oklahoma Coalition for Affordable Housing (OCAH) to speak at its 2018 Affordable Housing Conference about housing affordability challenges and solutions.

Andrea Frymire, secretary on the Board of Directors for the OCAH, shared with me that she appreciates the outreach and education NLIHC offers its members.

“NLIHC membership provides critical data and research to help further the mission of the Oklahoma Coalition for Affordable Housing as we strive to provide housing solutions for low to moderate income Oklahomans.  We were honored to have Victoria Bourret participate in our 2018 Affordable Housing Conference:Plan.Build.House.  Tori provided our 350+ attendees with up-to-the-minute information on national issues during a federal legislative panel and provided 20 workshop session attendees with ways to better advocate for affordable housing.”

Funding affordable homes is a challenge in Oklahoma but groups like the OCAH are bringing people together to convince policymakers that solving the affordable housing crisis helps an entire community. I was able to share with their members ways to talk about funding affordable homes that can appeal to a wide audience. It was meaningful to be able to dialogue with advocates on the ground about effective advocacy strategies to best meet the needs of the lowest income households in Oklahoma.

Tori in OK

Members of the Federal Legislative Update Panel at the 2018 Affordable Housing Conference from left to right: Moderator Lance Windel, LW Development; Garth Rieman, National Council of State Housing Agencies; Tori Bourret, National Low Income Housing Coalition; & Josh Yurek, Midwest Housing Equity Group

My presentation at the 2018 Affordable Housing Conference: Plan.Build.House was made possible through the contributions of our members. The information that I presented was generated with member support and shared through a member network. Please consider joining this network!

This blog is part of a series of blogs highlighting NLIHC member-driven advocacy successes for Membership Month. Find out more about Membership Month at: 

Members Open the Door to Data Resources and Tools

By Justin Godard, NLIHC housing advocacy organizer

September is NLIHC Membership Month, and this week we’re highlighting the ways our members support the development of invaluable data and tools useful to those fighting for more affordable housing. Without accurate data, making the case for investing in low income housing resources would be impossible. NLIHC serves this need by continually researching, developing, and distributing data and tools which accurately describe housing needs. One such tool is the National Housing Preservation Database (NHPD).

Created and maintained in partnership with the Public and Affordable Housing Research Corporation (PAHRC), the NHPD is an address-level inventory of all federally assisted rental housing in the United States. The benefit of such a tool is that it allows advocates to get a comprehensive understanding of the affordable housing stock in a community. It also allows users interested in perserving local affordable housing to get a clear understanding of which properties might be at risk of loss from the affordable housing stock.

Resources such as the NHPD are only possible through the support of our NLIHC Members! Join today!

NHPD Property Mapping Tool

NHPD Property Mapping Tool

The NHPD is utilized by a wide range of stakeholders, including practitioners, public officials, advocates, and researchers. It has been used for developing voter-engagement tools for assisted housing tenants,  identifying expiring Section 8 properties where tenants need to be organized to advocate for preserving their affordability, providing data for peer-reviewed journal articles about preservation, and many other purposes. The NHPD is also an important tool for NLIHC’s own research efforts.

Data and resources such as the NHPD are made possible through the contributions of our members. Consider supporting this work and join us!

Note: Nonprofits can sign up to use the NHPD for free; learn more at:

Organizations can also support the NHPD directly at: 

This blog is part of a series of blogs highlighting NLIHC member-driven advocacy successes for Membership Month. Find out more about Membership Month at: 

Hurricane Florence’s Potential Impact on the Lowest Income Renters and Their Homes

by  Dan Emmanuel, NLIHC senior research analyst

Last week NLIHC provided an early estimate of the threat Hurricane Florence posed to vulnerable households and affordable rental housing in the storm’s potential path across North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia. Now that Florence has passed, we can begin to get a better sense of the potential impact on the lowest income renters and their housing. Our updated estimates suggest that almost 95,000 rental homes affordable to very low income (VLI)* households and nearly 30,000 federally assisted units are located in counties where significant damage is most likely to have occurred. These areas are home to 98,000 very low income renters.

By all accounts Hurricane Florence hit North Carolina the hardest, leading to massive flooding across the eastern half of the state. The 18 most severely impacted counties in North Carolina received a Presidential Major Disaster Declaration. All 18 North Carolina counties were designated for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Individual Assistance (IA) programs (see map below), which include the Individuals and Households Program (IHP). IHP provides approved registrants with rental assistance, home repair assistance (for homeowners), or assistance for other serious disaster-related needs, such as childcare, medical care, transportation, storage, or the repair or replacement of essential household items.

These same counties are also eligible for FEMA’s Public Assistance (PA) program for categories A-B, which provides local jurisdictions assistance with debris removal and emergency protective work. PA categories C-G provide recovery assistance for public infrastructure, sometimes including public housing authority (PHA) facilities. So far, eight counties in South Carolina received a Presidential Major Disaster Declaration and are eligible for PA (A-B), but not IA. While our estimates are limited to IA designated areas, this does not preclude the possibility that damage occurred in other areas in South Carolina.

Analysis_Map 2 9 Small

See the enlarged map at:

During the IA application process, FEMA collects important information on the housing tenure of IA registrants, extent of damage to inspected housing units, and dollar amounts for approved assistance. These data offer an early opportunity to examine the extent of assistance needs and housing damage for both renters and homeowners following a disaster. IA application data are also an important metric for beginning to gauge the equity of federal, state, and local governments’ responses to a disaster. HUD uses FEMA’s damage inspection data in determining unmet housing needs, which informs the allocation of Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) funds administered by state and local governments. Advocates found potential disparities in the approval rates for IA among renters following Hurricane Harvey and the Government Accountability Office (GAO) documented a significant bias for homeowners in the allocation of CDBG-DR funds following Hurricane Katrina.

While full data from IA applications are not yet available and inspections will likely not be complete for several weeks, IA designations generally highlight the communities most impacted by the storm and where the most significant damage likely occurred. The 18 North Carolina counties with an IA designation have a combined poverty rate of 18.6% compared to the national poverty rate of 15.1%.** These counties are home to a little over 98,000 very low income renter households and there are just under 95,000 rental homes affordable to them (see table below). Based on data from the National Housing Preservation Database (NHPD), we estimate there are almost 30,000 federally assisted housing units in North Carolina’s IA designated counties. In Craven County alone, where the media has reported on damage to public housing in the town of New Bern, there are over 2,000 units of federally assisted housing.

Vulnerable Households

Source: CHAS 2011-2015; National Housing Preservation Database 2018; ATSDR Social Vulnerability Data 2016

HUD also provides estimates of its potentially affected assets, but those do not necessarily include properties assisted through the Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) or USDA Rural Development programs.*** LIHTC is the largest federal housing production program. Restoring, if not expanding, the limited supply of rental homes affordable to VLI households will be critical to an equitable recovery.

*Note: HUD defines very low income (VLI) households as those earning less than 50% of the area median income (AMI).

** Note: Based on 2012-2016 American Community Survey 5-Year estimates.

***Note: HUD’s estimates do include FHA mortgages and vouchers, while the NHPD does not.

As of September 20, 2018, 5:00pmET