Improving the Health of Housing in SKC

This year, HDC was very pleased to work with three students from the Evans School of Public Policy & Governance through their Public Service Clinic to research the needs and solutions for healthy housing in South King County. 

According to the National Center for Healthy Housing, there are seven principles of a Healthy Home. A healthy home is:

1. Dry
2. Clean
3. Pest-Free
4. Safe
5. Contaminant-Free
6. Ventilated
7. Maintained

Housing that does not meet these principles and is inadequate or substandard increases an individual’s risks of developing serious and costly health conditions. Researchers and public health experts across the country have documented a robust causal link between housing and health. Poor quality housing is most prominently associated with the following health conditions:

1. Lead poisoning
2. Asthma & other chronic diseases
3. Respiratory infections & other infectious diseases
4. Unintentional injuries, including fire
5. Cancer

Check out our new fact sheet to read more about the costs of these health problems.

It is not surprising to most of you to hear that low-income people and people of color are more likely to lack access to healthy housing conditions, just as they struggle most to find affordable homes. HDC Members are strongly committed to developing and maintaining healthy housing for the low-income residents they serve, but many low-income people are living in non-subsidized housing that, for various reasons, is not as well maintained. This problem is particularly prominent in South King County where rents are lower and property owners face few incentives to maintain their housing.

Our new report recommends several strategies that we hope to further research and/or advocate for in the coming months, including:

The students recommended strategies to be implemented locally:

  • Updated Building Codes that Adopt the National Healthy Housing Standard (NHHS): Updating local building codes to reflect healthy housing goals will have a direct impact on code enforcement and housing quality.
  • Proactive Rental Inspection Programs: Assessing the condition of rental units and actively enforcing building codes will have a positive effect on housing quality in the rental market.
  • Just Cause Eviction Ordinances (JCEOs): Enacting a new ordinance will decrease under-reporting of poor rental housing conditions and provide displacement protections to tenants who may face eviction as retaliation for reporting unhealthy conditions.

And strategies to be implemented regionally:

  • Community Health Workers (CHWs): Community health workers can educate residents about health outcomes associated with substandard housing conditions and connect them to the appropriate programs and resources necessary to improve their homes.
  • Code Compliance Loans for Multi-Family Repairs: Cities can offer property owners low-interest loans to make the repairs necessary to bring units up to code.
  • Regional Acquisition Fund: By pooling resources, information, and funds, SKC cities can work with non-profit housing developers to purchase and rehabilitate multifamily and single-family properties, based on local priorities. These acquisitions would ensure healthy, livable units remain permanently affordable across the entire region.

We also believe HALA’s recommendation to gain state authority for a Preservation Tax Exemption would be an incredibly powerful tool for addressing this important need.

HDC is incredibly grateful for all the diligent and terrific work of Evans School students Andrew Calkins, Andrew Wong, and Andrew Desmond. We hope this will spark further discussion and action to ensure all people have the opportunity to live safe, HEALTHY, and productive lives.