Online Program

Enlisting Code Enforcement in Health Equity: Addressing Substandard Housing in King County, Wa

Monday, November 2, 2015

Sigolène Ortega, MPHc, School of Public Health, Department of Health Services, Community-Oriented Public Health Practice, University of Washington, Seattle, Seattle, WA
Nicole Thomsen, REHS, Healthy Community Planning, Public Health – Seattle & King County, Seattle, WA
In King County, WA the housing code does not reflect what is known about the connection between housing conditions and health. In fact, 43% of rental units and 33% of owner-occupied housing units in King County have physical problems that could affect health. Currently, King County has no uniform minimum standards for what constitutes a habitable house. Public Health Seattle & King County is exploring how to work with local city jurisdictions to improve health outcomes associated with housing inequities. Research tells us that the health consequences of substandard housing include asthma, falls, allergies, depression, cardiovascular disease, respiratory infections, and poisoning from a variety of substances. Substandard conditions that augment and lead to the presence of asthma triggers include leaks, drainage problems, inadequate ventilation, carpeting, and structural defects. Other substandard conditions can lead to unintentional injuries. Key informant phone interviews with local code enforcement officers (N= 40) were conducted during April and May of 2014. Code enforcement officers are critical stakeholders in taking a "whole house" approach their work. Currently, inspections often address health and safety hazards individually and on a complaint based system. However, addressing health and safety hazards all together has been demonstrated to be more efficient, effective, and less costly for society. Interview findings showed: 1) Gaps in understanding how housing and health are connected and a need for standard housing language. 2) Other noticeable differences include the identification of substandard housing between well off jurisdictions and low-income jurisdictions in identifying substandard housing as an issue. 3) Jurisdictions addressing substandard housing are constrained by economic factors, institutional practices, and staffing, etc. Key informant interviews are essential to assessing current code enforcement of minimum standards and can shed light on the need for guidelines and recommendations as a tool to protect human health.

Learning Areas:

Environmental health sciences
Public health or related public policy
Systems thinking models (conceptual and theoretical models), applications related to public health

Learning Objectives:
Describe the utility of “health in all policies” in King County, WA by identifying the role of health in housing maintenance code. Assessment of local city jurisdiction’s capacity to address substandard housing. Identify a role for environmental health policy in reducing health inequities in our communities.

Keyword(s): Environmental Health, Healthy Housing

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: Sigolène Ortega is currently and MPH candidate at the University of Washington. She hopes to influence health policy to help eliminate health disparities while ensuring low-income populations have access to healthy environments. Above all, she wishes to be part of the generation that translates the Healthy People 2020 vision – a society in which all people live long and healthy lives – into reality.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.