Healthy Places - Healthy Housing

Good health begins at home.  Healthy housing is designed, built and maintained in support of good health.  The way housing is planned, developed, managed and maintained can benefit the health of families as well as communities.  Healthy Homes is a comprehensive approach to preventing diseases and injuries that result from housing-related hazards and deficiencies.  Learn the seven Healthy Homes principles about keeping a home dry, clean, pest-free, safe, contaminant-free, ventilated and maintained.  Healthy housing prevents illness and injury, builds neighborhoods and maintains property values.

photographs of neighborhood houses

Where to get Healthy Homes information?

If you are looking for more information about how to maintain a healthy home click over to our Homes website.  There you will find  many healthy homes topics from mold to radon and renter’s rights to home inspections.

Why can healthy housing benefit health?

There are many benefits of living in a healthy home.  Anticipated improved health outcomes include:

     Reduced – number of potential health hazards in the home
     Reduced – number of asthma attacks, emergency room visits, and hospitalizations
     Reduced – number of people exposed to radon
     Reduced – number of children with elevated blood lead levels
     Reduced – number of school days missed by children
     Reduced – number of work days missed by adults

     Increased – number of families addressing health and environmental concerns
     Increased – community participation in health and environmental programs

What was the Surgeon General’s Call to Action?

In 2009, recognizing poorly maintained homes increased the risk for injury and illness and that unhealthy and unsafe housing affected the health of millions of people of all income levels, geographic areas, and walks of life in the United States, the Office of the Surgeon General released The U.S. Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Promote Healthy Homes.  The Call to Action describes the steps people can take to protect themselves from disease, disability and injury that could result from health hazards in their homes.  The Call to Action also outlines the next steps of a society-wide, comprehensive and coordinated approach to healthy homes that will result in the greatest possible public health impact and reduce disparities in the availability of healthy, safe, affordable, accessible and environmentally friendly homes.

Where to learn about healthy housing policy?

There are a number of great agencies working on policies that make homes healthier.  For what is happening within the federal government, check the U.S. Department of Housing and Developments’ website.  The National Center for Healthy Housing website is another good source for policy information.  ChangeLab Solutions has a nice collection of law and policy information about healthy homes.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is another central website for more information.

Why is affordable housing important to health?

Affordable housing is important to the health of individuals, families and communities.  According the National Prevention Strategy quality housing is associated with positive physical and mental well-being.  It recommends designing and promoting affordable, accessible, safe and healthy housing.  Affordable housing means families are paying a reasonable percent of their income on housing leaving more money to spend on health care and nutritious foods.  Having more money from affordable housing provides emotional and mental health benefits from greater stability and reduced stress.  A lack of affordable housing increases the likelihood of a lengthy and costly commute.  With reduced time and money comes reduces opportunities to advance education or job skills and less opportunities for exercise.  Together these factors lower quality of life while increasing the risk of chronic and infectious diseases.  According the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention low-income people, women, children, communities of color, and the elderly are at increased risk of healthy inequities due to a lack of affordable housing.  Policies protecting affordable housing can safeguard people and their communities.

Why are zoning policies important to health?

Zoning is a land use planning tool.  Zoning has been used in urban, suburban and rural settings.  Zoning means what can go where.  What goes where can have a major impact on health.  Zoning policy can influence neighborhood factors that lead to health outcomes such as physical activity, violent crime and obesity.  Zoning can be used to restrict or prohibit certain land uses in certain areas.  For example, zoning can prohibit a landfill or concentrated animal feed operation from being located in an area that could reduce residential property values or quality of life.  Zoning can encourage certain land uses.  For example, mixed use zoning can increase density connecting people and places leading to more active transportation and physical activity.  Zoning policies can encourage or require healthier options such as sidewalks, bike lanes, affordable housing or green spaces.  Effective zoning policies can increase property values and decrease health inequities.

What can be done in multifamily housing?

Multifamily housing is higher density housing such as apartments, townhomes, condominiums and villages that are home to about 25% of Americans.  The way multifamily housing is planned, developed, managed and maintained can benefit health and wellness.  Multifamily housing properties with green space, sidewalks and other opportunities for relaxing and physical activity benefit their residents.  Properties with wide-reaching healthy policies like smoke-free housing benefit everyone living there.  Smoke-free policies have been shown to reduce property owners’ maintenance and repair costs and fire hazard liability.  The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) provides Smoke-free Multifamily Housing Toolkits (PDF) for residents and property managers.  ChangeLab Solutions provides several smoke-free housing publications.  Multifamily housing can support community needs while benefiting the neighborhoods where they are located.

What can be done in public housing?

Public housing provides support and services to people with special needs such as affordability, aging or disability.  Residents in public housing often have a higher risk of problems such as overcrowding, crime, fragile family structures or old buildings.  Poor safety and security can negatively impact health.  The way public housing is planned, developed, managed and maintained can benefit the health of families as well as communities.  Public housing can promote health by having green spaces, sidewalks and other opportunities for reducing stress and increasing physical activity.  In Chicago, trees were shown to increase the use outdoor spaces near public housing while decreasing crime.  Public housing can benefit residents when it pairs with public transit or child care to assist residents with maintaining employment.  Public housing can readily maintain healthy policies like smoke-free housing to the benefit everyone living there, especially children and people with asthma.  Some public housing complexes are big enough to be their own neighborhood.  No matter the size, public housing can benefit their neighborhood by supporting community needs.  The National Center for Health in Public Housing has resources to help residents and operators of public housing.

What about outside my home?

The outdoor yards of our homes can be great places to get physical activity, reconnect with nature or grow healthy foods.  The University of Tennessee’s Extension is a statewide educational organization that brings research-based information about agriculture, family and consumer sciences, and resource development to the people of Tennessee where they live and work.  Check out UT's Residential and Consumer Horticulture information about growing vegetables, flowers, lawns, ornamentals and native plants.  UT's Extension programs address the horticultural needs of homeowners and the general public in regards to proper management of home lawns, gardens and ornamental landscapes.

Government partners

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
Healthy Homes and Places
Health Impact in 5 Years (HI-5) - Financial supports for low-income homeowners

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)
Healthy Homes

Tennessee Housing Development Agency (THDA)

Additional resources 

Local Housing Solutions

National Center for Healthy Housing

Helpful documents

U.S. Surgeon General 
Call to Action to Promote Healthy Homes 

American Journal of Public Health 
Public Health Matters: Zoning, Equity, and Public Health

U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)
Smoke-free Housing