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The Prescription for Healthy Children Starts at Home

Posted on 19. Mar, 2015 by

According to a recent study by The Data Center, nearly 40% of New Orleans’ children live in poverty. While this statistic isn’t new to us, it stings every time we read it. It should also come as no surprise that the children who fall into that 39% are very likely to be living in substandard housing.

A safe home is the foundation for healthy growth and stability. Yet there are far too many toxic living spaces in this city, and it’s time that we address that problem wholeheartedly for the sake of our children’s futures.

Blog_Children_in_Poverty_V2_15.3.12In terms of general physical health, the status of New Orleans rental housing is grim. Estimates from the last American Housing Survey in 2011 show that more than 7,000 New Orleans rental units had signs of rodents and close to 2,000 had mold. Mold, rodent, and cockroach infestation can lead to and exacerbate asthma, which is the third leading cause of hospitalization for children in the state.

There is other evidence to suggest that our brightest young minds are being damaged before they ever enter a classroom. The MacArthur Foundation found that out of five major housing issues, the quality of a house—the presence of leaking roofs, broken windows, rodents, nonfunctioning heaters, exposed wiring, or unsafe or unclean environments—is the strongest predictor of a child’s emotional and behavioral wellbeing. Older children in poorer quality homes also showed lower reading and math skills on standardized tests.

New Orleans faces many social problems for which there are no clear, definitive “fixes.” That’s not the case with substandard housing. If landlords opposed to basic health and safety standards argue that they are being treated unjustly, we as New Orleanians should point to the real injustice: a child suffering because we’ve quietly accepted the status quo. Boston pediatrician Dr. Megan Sandel, in her article supporting amendments to Boston’s rental registry program, recalls treating a young girl whose home was infested with rodents:

“I realized that no amount of medicine I could give this young child would make it safe for her to go home. The prescription I wanted to write was for a healthy home.”

Let’s write that prescription here in New Orleans.

1. ACS 2013, 1 year estimates.
2. According to the City of New Orleans 2012-2016 Consolidated Plan, 42% of renter households below the poverty line (or 30% AMI) reported lacking complete plumbing or kitchen facilities, p. 18, available:
3. 2011 American Housing Survey(AHS) data shows that 124,800 rental units in the area were in need of major repairs at some point, out of a total of 159,100 rental units in the New Orleans-Metairie-Kenner area. In other words, about 78% of the rental units needed major repairs. Assuming this percentage is equal across the area, 78% of the rental units in New Orleans in 2011 were also in need of major repairs at some point. Because New Orleans likely has a disproportionate share of housing problems, these estimates are likely lower than the actual figures.

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