Many of the poor health conditions among New York’s poorer residents are illnesses caused by toxins in the buildings they live in. In January 2011 the NYC City Council adopted a model law giving tenmants a new tool, and more importantly, requiring government action when landlords don’t act.
NY City Council Targets Asthma Triggers with Housing Act
By Rebecca Baird-Remba / All Media NY/ January 17, 2011
In an effort to improve some of the city’s most dilapidated buildings, the City Council last week expanded a housing program that forces landlords to make repairs to buildings with the most housing code violations.
The program, known as the Safe Housing Act, targets the city’s 200 worst buildings every year and forces landlords to make the required repairs. If the landlords don’t repair their buildings, the city makes the repairs and sends the landlords the bill.
With the expansion, the program will include twice as many apartment units by targeting larger buildings. It will also focus more closely on violations related to health issues such as mold, asthma, insects, and mice.
According to the NYC Department of Health, New York City has one of the highest hospitalization rates for asthma in the country, at twice the national average. Asthma is also the leading cause for hospitalization of children in New York City, with nearly 10,000 children hospitalized annually for asthma-related complications.
"Imagine if you were sick and every time you went home it made it worse," said Council Speaker Christine Quinn. "Unfortunately, that is what’s happening all over the city."
Despite extensive support for the program, it continues to lose money because the city fails to recoup much of the housing costs from the landlords. A spokesman from the Department of Housing Preservation and Development said the city has spent $17 million to improve these buildings, but has only recouped $4.5 million.
In the three years since its creation, only a third of all participating landlords have “graduated” from the program, meaning they have successfully fixed their buildings. 2010 was the worst year to date, with only 57 landlords graduating from the program.
But city council members and tenant advocates consider that money an investment in the improvement of the city’s health and living conditions. Over 300,000 New Yorkers suffer from asthma, reports the Department of Health, and the asthma rates are highest in the city’s poorest neighborhoods, such as certain parts of Brooklyn, Harlem, and the Bronx.
The asthma rate in Bushwick, Brooklyn is four times the city average, mostly due to poor housing conditions such as vermin and mold, according to Parvez Mir, head of the asthma clinic at Wyckoff Heights Medical Center.
"Asthma is [an] epidemic in low-income communities of color throughout our city, and this bill is an important step toward ending the impunity that is literally taking our children’s breath away," said Andrew Friedman, co-executive Director of the tenant advocacy group Make the Road New York, which helped pass the Safe Housing Act.
Under the program’s expansion, the city will now repair over 3,000 units annually, according to Make the Road New York.