5 Ways the Asthma Free Housing Act Will Benefit NYC Residents

On 6/11/2014 Council Member Rosie Mendez introduced The Asthma Free Housing Act (Intro 385). It passed to the Committee on Housing and Buildings, where it has stalled for three years and we are still waiting for a committee and full council vote to move it along.

The AFH Act requires effective remediation and incentivizes prevention of mold and pest infestations that trigger asthma. It also establishes new protocol for addressing indoor allergens in privately-owned apartment buildings, leaving NYCHA residents out of the Act all together.

Over the past three years, support for the AFH Act has grown. Not only do 48 out of 51 council members support it, but over 20 NYC organizations have rallied behind it, creating The Coalition for Asthma Free Housing.

Included in the Coalition are New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYLPI), Fifth Avenue Committee, American Lung Association of the City of New York, Congregation B'nai Jeshurun, Fifth Avenue Committee, Make the Road by Walking, New York City Aids Housing Network, New York Immigration Coalition, Northern Manhattan Improvement Corporation, Pratt Area Community Council, Urban Justice Center and WEACT for Environmental Justice, among others.

In some low-income neighborhoods in the city 1 in 4 children have asthma, in the US the number is 1 in 11. The NYC Health Department data also shows that asthma is the leading cause of school absences in city schools and the most common reason for city hospitalizations.

Since conditions where mice, cockroaches and mold are present are not classified as the most serious housing violations, and not that uncommon when living in the city, they are not considered to present an immediate threat and landlords are rarely forced to resolve them.

In an article released by DNA in June, “Toothless enforcement measures” include lenient penalties and lengthened timelines for resolution that allow landlords to drag their feet on addressing problems, advocates say. “Due to loopholes in the rent laws, landlords receive a windfall every time that an apartment becomes vacant," he said. "Therefore, the incentive to harass long-term tenants out of their homes by ignoring housing code violations has only increased over the last decade.” [DNA]

According the a City Lab article, also dated in June, the Act includes

  • Inspectors, trained to look for the underlying causes of mold and other issues

  • Treatment would involve such actions as replacing pipes and sealing gaps in walls, entrances, and exits to ensure that pests cannot enter easily.

  • Clear timelines

  • Measures of accountability would ensure that the work actually gets done.

  • Affidavit supplied by the landlord to the city proving the repairs were completed. If a landlord fails to do the work, the city would be authorized to do emergency repairs, for which it would charge the landlord.

In the same article, Christine Appah, a senior staff attorney at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest and a member of the coalition, told City Lab “These are equity issues. The act would empower people who are disproportionately affected by these problems—people living in lower-income neighborhoods, minorities, and immigrants.”

That’s great for the private sector, but what about public housing? In our post from a few weeks ago, we wrote about NYCHA’s inability to keep up with repairs and many of them were repairs due to water damage, which is the breeding ground for mold.

In its NextGen program it creates a roadmap that it hopes to use to become a better landlord. NYCHA’s General Manager Michael Kelly states “In these uncertain times, it is more important than ever for us to double our efforts to change the way we do business and be more efficient. While we might not be able to put new roofs and ventilation systems in every building, we can do better in identifying and treating mold and its source – the first time, the right way – with these modern and strategic remedies. With Mold Busters, we are working to not only get rid of the mold but also prevent recurrence.”

The press release goes onto say, that while the Authority’s funding gap presents a significant impediment, they are committed to fighting mold by changing how it tackles the problem.

The program was launched on May 1st, targeting 38 of NYCHA’s 328 developments. Mold is not a new issue for NYCHA, in December 2013 they settled a class action suit by promising to address allegations that its failure to eradicate mold was harming tenants who have asthma and other respiratory ailments. The agency has failed to do so, getting extension after extension from the judge.

After so many years of poor management and ineffective initiatives, why doesn’t The Asthma Free Act extend to over NYCHA buildings as well? After all, we are all New Yorkers and we all deserve to raise healthy children.

Please call your local council member or Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and ask them to take action on Intro385: 212-788-7210.

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