Healthy housing initiatives continue to make progress on global and U.S. fronts. What does this mean for housing in 2020? At the end of the first year of ECOHOME's Vision 2020 project, 2012 Indoor Environmental Quality chair David Jacobs theorized that "by 2020, we will provide new and existing housing that supports good health with indoor environments that no longer contain avoidable exposures to toxins that contribute to or cause asthma, mold-induced illness, lead poisoning, carbon monoxide poisoning, mental illness, stress, and a host of other preventable diseases and injuries." We recently caught up with Jacobs, and his recent work may shed some light on where things are going.

In April, the World Health Organization (WHO), with support from Housing and Urban Development and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), convened its second meeting in three years in an on-going effort to develop healthy housing guidelines. The meeting was an assembly of the world’s leading experts in the field, and as part of the on-going effort, Jacobs represents the National Center for Healthy Housing as one of three U.S. delegates among more than 18 countries that have joined together to address an array of housing conditions.  

““This [meeting] is a remarkable development,” Jacobs says. “After years in the making, our drafts of the various topics should be available in late summer. These guidelines will be an excellent starting point for WHO member states to develop their own laws and regulations to ensure healthy housing.” As part of the on-going process, WHO will draw upon its existing documentation covering items such as IAQ, mold, and inequalities in environmental health, and rely on delegates’ expertise to inform the new guidelines. For example, Jacobs's focus areas are lead paint, affordability, physical security and safety, and ventilation. A follow-up meeting to revise the overall draft of the guidelines is slated for early 2014.

Closer to home, codes and standards related to health and homes continue to progress. Jacobs is on the technical group for the National Healthy Housing Standard in partnership with the American Public Health Association to update the 1986 Housing and Health: Recommended Minimum Housing Standards document. When the International Code Council and the Building Officials and Code Administrators International (BOCA) developed their model codes during the 1990s, they didn’t typically include health aspects like radon and lead paint.

“We now have a much better understanding of the causes and effects of items like lead poisoning, radon, and mold, and we need the new standard to reflect this,” Jacobs explains. “Once developed, we hope jurisdictions will adopt it along with other model codes.” The draft standard is now available for public comment through July 31.

Jacobs is also seeking to restore funding to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program. The CDC used the funds for a variety of national initiatives such as support for childhood lead poisoning prevention programs in local health departments throughout the nation, technical assistance for lead screening, and training to public health professionals. In 2012, the program’s federal support was cut from $30 million to $2 million. As part of the EPA Children’s Health Protection Advisory Committee, Jacobs and his colleagues are requesting an emergency meeting of the President’s Task Force on President‘s Task Force on Environmental Health Risks and Safety Risks to Children to bring funds back to the program. While a handful of jurisdictions have been able to continue the program in their area, most have not. Without federal funding, parents have no place to go for information if their children get lead poisoning, or more importantly, how to prevent it. 

These efforts at home and abroad signify the rising interest and recognized importance of insuring that appropriate housing standards and related services are in place to improve indoor environmental quality. Once adopted--or, in the case of the CDC programs, reinstated--the measures will offer critical support to providing healthy living environments for people at all of levels of society to meet 2020 goals.

Building on its successful launch in 2012, ECOHOME’s Vision 2020 program continues in 2013, focusing on eight critical areas in sustainability. Track our progress all year as our panel of visionary focus-area chairs, our editors, and leading researchers, practitioners, and advocates share their perspectives on initiating, tracking, and ensuring progress toward sustainable priorities and goals in residential construction between now and 2020. The program will culminate in an exclusive Vision 2020 Forum in Washington, D.C., in September 2013, and with a special edition of ECOHOME in Winter 2013. Click here to see the 2012 Wrap-Up.