DC Green Housing Rehabilitation: Do Green Buildings Improve the Health of Residents?

Project Funder: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)

Project Partners:  Wheeler Terrace Tenant Association; Wiencek + Associates Architects + Planners, one of the nation's leading green architectural firms; and Community Preservation Development Corporation (CPDC), one of the most respected community development corporations in DC and elsewhere. 

Project Contact: Susan Aceti, 443.539.4153

Project Description: The National Center for Healthy Housing (NCHH) studied how incorporating green building design into low-income housing rehabilitation could promote health and reduce environmental exposures. Green building design is an emerging trend, and jurisdictions are increasingly adopting green criteria in local laws. Washington, DC, recently adopted one of the farthest-reaching such laws in the nation. The rehabilitation of Wheeler Terrace (WT) Apartments in the Ward 8 Anacostia section of DC commanded local and national attention because it was one of the first projects to meet the provisions of the law. While many green building criteria contain health requirements, only a few studies in progress at the time were evaluating the reported health outcomes experienced by occupants in such housing, and none of them had been done pursuant to local law, making this demonstration unique.

Healthy Homes interventions in the WT rehabilitation project included ventilation system modifications to improve fresh air supply and distribution, installation of bathroom and kitchen exhaust fans, improved building envelope sealing to control moisture and pest intrusion, and Integrated Pest Management programs. Training of construction and developer staff and education of community residents helped to ensure that Healthy Homes principles continued after this demonstration project was complete.

NCHH enrolled approximately 50 low-income housing units into the demonstration. The project team evaluated health outcomes through a comparison of the reported health status of occupants before, immediately after, and one year following housing rehabilitation. To collect data, NCHH adapted the National Health Interview Survey and a visual assessment, modified from HUD's Physical Assessment Subsystem and several healthy homes survey instruments used in earlier studies. Both the interview and the visual assessment forms were piloted elsewhere. Allergen samples were collected from a subset of housing units at both developments using standard HUD protocols.

NCHH was responsible for overall management of this HUD Healthy Homes demonstration project and for the scientific evaluation of health and housing data. CPDC was responsible for rehabilitation management and financing, with Wiencek + Associates handling architectural design and construction management. The Wheeler Terrace Tenant Association served as a resident liaison. The following hypotheses were tested: Green building housing rehabilitation in low-income housing results in (1) statistically significant improvements in asthma, overall self-reported health status, respiratory health, and certain mental health measures at one year following the completion of the rehabilitation; and (2) statistically significant reduction in settled dust allergen levels immediately after treatment and one year later. Data and evaluation designs were presented to the residents at community meetings, ensuring community-based participatory research integration.

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