In 2018, Common Ground Health conducted a rapid HIA to examine the effects of aging housing stock on the health of low-income communities in Elmira, New York, and to inform neighborhood revitalization efforts. More than 90% of the city’s housing was built before 1950, and some of these aging dwellings present a high risk of exposure to lead, mold, and other environmental toxins linked to asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
The HIA found that the highest number of emergency room visits for respiratory illnesses occurred in neighborhoods in Elmira with disproportionately high poverty rates. In ZIP code 14901, where median household income is $29,022 and 36% of residents live below the poverty line, residents experience much higher rates of emergency department visits for respiratory diseases, including asthma and COPD, than their neighbors in the rest of Elmira and the surrounding Chemung County. Furthermore, rates of premature death due to COPD among those 45 and over in 2016 in Elmira’s census tract 7 were more than double that of the surrounding county and the Southern Tier region. Although smoking is the main risk factor for COPD, studies indicate that as many as 25% of people with COPD have never smoked and developed the disease through long-term exposure to poor air quality and other lung irritants such as chemical fumes or dust. The HIA also found that elevated blood lead level rates in Elmira children under age 3 are more than double in ZIP code 14901 than the New York state average (excluding New York City) of 3.8 percent.
The report recommended expanding existing public-private partnerships with Chemung County, state agencies including the Energy Research and Development Authority and the Office of Homes and Community Renewal, and federal partners such as the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to increase access to safe and affordable housing in Elmira through home renovation and hazard abatement. Other recommendations included introducing new housing policies to facilitate proactive code enforcement and identification of environmental hazards in rental housing, and participating in the Healthy Homes Program, which assesses houses for environmental health and safety issues.
The HIA helped the Chemung County Department of Health secure a $1 million HUD grant to fund lead abatement projects in Elmira.
This Health Impact Assessment Report first appeared in The Cross-Sector Toolkit for Health. The Cross-Sector Toolkit for Health was originally developed by the Health Impact Project, formerly a collaboration of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and The Pew Charitable Trusts. The creation of this resource was supported by a grant from the Health Impact Project. The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Pew Charitable Trusts, or the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.