By Daja Henry
In a press release Monday, the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center released data showing that many New Orleans rental homes were unsafe and unhealthy.
According to their statistics, 78 percent of rental units needed major repairs at some point in the past year. This included 1,700 units with mold, 2,350 units without a working bathroom, 5,300 units with water leaks from the outside, and 5,450 units without a working smoke detector.
“In the past few years, homes have burned down and lives have been lost in homes with no smoke detectors,” Dr. George Hobor, Louisiana Public Health Institute Healthy Communities Director, says of the treacherous conditions. Untreated sewage, insect and rodent infestation, and mold are some of the problems he lists that affect people living in these poor rental housing conditions.
Asthma, one of Louisiana’s top health issues, can be caused and exacerbated by mold and dampness, and also illnesses brought in by rodents. Coupled with untreated sewage, these provide for inhospitable conditions for those with respiratory illnesses. Though there is no research showing a direct linkage between asthma and New Orleans housing conditions, there is research showing a direct linkage between asthma triggers and poor housing conditions.
“Dwelling Disparities: How Poor Housing Leads to Poor Health,” a study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information lists mold, moisture, and rodents as asthma triggers. The study also affirms the linkage between asthma and urban housing environments.
According to Hobor, the neighborhoods where most people are coming into emergency rooms with asthma-related issues are those with poor housing stock, which he identified as New Orleans’ Seventh Ward, Hollygrove, parts of Central City, and Lower Ninth Ward neighborhoods. More specifically, these are predominantly African-American neighborhoods.
Another major problem is the level of instability introduced by these conditions, which can lead to stress and other mental health issues. Della Wright, the Evaluation Manager for the Institute of Women & Ethnic Studies (IWES), says that these conditions “disproportionately affect poor people,” which, as of last February included 39 percent of New Orleans’ children. IWES is working on an initiative designed to work with these vulnerable youth.
Though we are making “great strides with the healthcare system and working class people throughout the city and state,” says Cashauna Hill, until we address these underlying factors, we will not be able to progress. Hill says that under the city’s Fair Housing Act, Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, people are entitled to a healthy and stable home that will not make them sick. It is inherent that these issues are fixed and that these impoverished African-Americans are not silenced in a situation bearing much semblance to that of Flint, Michigan.