Decreasing Environmental Inequity Through the Development of Safe and Healthy Housing in Lewiston-Auburn, Maine A Document Prepared for the Green and Healthy Homes Initiative By Grace Kenney, Tenzin Namdol, Kate Paladin, and Sarah Mae Silverberg Community-Engaged Research in Environmental Studies (ENVR 417) Bates College
The Industrial Revolution and successful mill industry in Lewiston, Maine led to a population boom in the 19th century. In response to a sudden housing demand, Lewiston-Auburn residences were built quickly and without regard to long-term use, and today many of these houses still stand in poor condition. The current inhabitants of these degraded housing units are disproportionately low-income, ethnic minorities, disabled, elderly, and immigrants. Housing hazards such as uneven floors, fires, allergens, moisture and fungi, pests, and air pollutants are abundant. The high likelihood of lead-based paints present in these homes makes lead poisoning an issue of particular concern for housing health in the Lewiston-Auburn community. Exposure to even the smallest amounts of lead can cause irreversible damage to human body systems. As total lead poisoning rates are declining nationally, they have become more concentrated in low-income, minority children, especially those living in old houses. Lead poisoning rates in Lewiston-Auburn are three times the state average. While there are many organizations in the Lewiston-Auburn area working to increase the quality of housing, reduce health hazards, and provide equitable services to residents, only this year has an organization been created to coordinate all of these efforts in order to create efficient and effective change in the community. The Green and Healthy Homes Initiative (GHHI) is a national coalition that aims to “break the link between unhealthy housing and unhealthy children, families and seniors,” by serving as a liaison between a variety of funding resources, health care providers, community and governmental programs, and homeowners and residents (GHHI 2014). The Lewiston-Auburn GHHI chapter, founded in June 2014, intends to create safe and healthy homes with an emphasis on lead hazard reduction and lead abatement. GHHI Lewiston-Auburn allows homeowners to access all of Maine’s resources for home improvement, including adding weatherization and energy efficiency retrofits, reducing slip and fall hazards, and eliminating contaminants such as lead and mold, all coordinated by one organization. As GHHI Lewiston-Auburn is a new chapter as of 2014, they are still developing the framework necessary to work with community partners, residents, and the wider community of Lewiston-Auburn effectively. With the help of other GHHI chapters and a variety of local resources, partnerships with other organizations were created in order to foster information exchange between residents and GHHI professionals, as well as streamline the application process for homeowners who are seeking rehabilitation. In order to begin creating a solid foundation of resources for GHHI Lewiston-Auburn, a database of potential community partners and resources for residents was created. This serves as reference for both GHHI Lewiston-Auburn and residents who may be searching for funding or assistance programs within the community. Formerly four housing rehabilitation applications were used to find candidates for financial aid. These documents were combined into one comprehensive housing application, creating a system that can be used by multiple community partners and a larger majority of residents. A one page document was created to provide information about GHHI and to advertise the benefits of partnering with GHHI to organizations with missions related to housing and health in the state of Maine. A second document was developed in order to effectively communicate vital health hazard prevention methods and tips on how to keep a healthy home to low-literacy and non-native English speaking residents. The housing assessment surveys used by the GHHI resident educator to gather a general picture of the health of a home and its residents were re-written to simplify the process and eliminate redundant, leading, and unclear questions. 4 Next steps in continuing to lay the framework for GHHI Lewiston-Auburn includes the creation of a portable version of the housing asset database for the GHHI’s home educator to take to home visits and to be used as a resource for planning team committee members, and in the long term a partnership with GHHI Providence, Rhode Island, to create a wikiHousing page as an online database which would be an expansion of the textual document that should be made in the next few months. Because the income distribution in City of Lewiston and the City of Auburn varies, the next step in the housing rehabilitation application is to create two different sliding fee scales, one for each city. In order for GHHI to fully to attain the goals articulated in its mission, expanding community wide awareness is the key. GHHI should focus their efforts in recruiting family physicians, social workers and educators, in their search to acquire well-established, committed partners within the community who can serve as liaisons for information to the community.
Kenney, Grace; Namdol, Tenzin; Paladin, Kate; and Silverberg, Sarah Mae, "Decreasing Environmental Inequity Through the Development of Safe and Healthy Housing in Lewiston-Auburn, Maine A Document Prepared for the Green and Healthy Homes Initiative By Grace Kenney, Tenzin Namdol, Kate Paladin, and Sarah Mae Silverberg Community-Engaged Research in Environmental Studies (ENVR 417) Bates College" (2014). Community Engaged Research Reports. 16.