Unmet housing needs in San Francisco result in significant public health costs. Inadequate or unaffordable housing forces San Francisco residents into crowded and substandard conditions and increases the risk of involuntary displacement. Residents who live in poor housing quality are at greater risk for problems associated with home deterioration such as compromised climate control, growth of mold and mildew, pest or rodent infestation, lead and other environmental hazards. Substandard housing is associated with respiratory tract irritation, allergic reactions, asthma and eye, nose, and throat irritation, and causes significant short-term and long-term health effects. These can include respiratory illness and disease, asthma attacks, cancer, and premature death. Involuntary displacement can cause or contribute to mental stress, loss of supportive social networks, costly school and job relocations and increases risk for substandard housing and overcrowding. Unmet housing needs can also cause stress and other adverse health outcomes as a result of potential housing instability.
As a member of the Municipal Green Building Task Force and through our Indoor Air Quality Reporting Project, the San Francisco Department of Public Health aims to improve the quality of housing by reducing exposure to environmental hazards, pesticides, toxic cleaners and reducing asthma triggers for families at risk, especially for low income and public housing developments. Our program has also developed a public health framework to relate project development to residential displacement as well as housing affordability and how these factors adversely affect human health through housing impact assessments. We have conducted research on available methods and current practices applicable to housing affordability and residential displacement impact analysis and are also studying environmental exposures and the health effects of living in green housing.
Informing Public Policy
This project increased awareness of housing-related health hazards and imparted knowledge to the participating families that live in rented homes about safe and habitable homes as their basic tenant rights. The project made recommendations aimed at policy makers to improve the socioeconomic and health status of the participating families by investing additional resources and effort in promoting affordable, healthy housing.
Municipal Green Building Task Force
The SFDPH is a member of the Municipal Green Building Task Force and advises the Task Force on health impacts from building and construction and ensure the city provides a high quality and healthy interior environment for city employees and citizens.
Shaping Design and Planning
In 2003, SFDPH conducted an analysis in the form of a letter on the redevelopment of the Trinity Plaza apartments, a building with over 360 rent controlled units. The analysis concluded that there would be an adverse environmental impact of 360 low-income households in area of high housing cost.
In 2002, SFDPH conducted an impact assessment to improve the quality of the indoor environment in public housing developments as part of an on-going effort to reduce asthma episodes in San Francisco. The analysis analyzed the health impact of a flooring policy and helped create a draft flooring policy.
Research and Assessment
Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) Reporting
The SFDPH is collecting data, conducting research and interventions relating to the causes, effects, extent, prevention, and control of indoor pollution to provide better solutions to IAQ problems and improve IAQ policy-making.
Demonstrating the Health Benefits of Green Affordable Housing
SFDPH is a technical advisor on a study with Mount Sinai School of Medicine, Department of Preventive Medicine and Enterprise Community Partners to measure environmental exposures and to study the health effects of living in green housing.