Strategy overview

  • Balancing resident needs with inspector capacity: Initiatives focused on maintaining safe and healthy housing typically engage both property owners and tenants, and in many cases, housing inspectors. These programs intend to ensure that existing affordable homes remain safe, healthy, and high-quality. They typically address common home health hazards, which often fall into one of two major categories: physical injury/safety risks (i.e. unstable staircases or broken handrails) and illness-inducing hazards (such as lead paint, mold, pests, carbon monoxide, etc.).
  • Proactive inspections: The foundation of many effective programs is a more strategic deployment of a jurisdiction’s home inspection capacity. Oftentimes, this includes using data analysis to identify high-risk blocks or neighborhoods and then sending inspectors to walk those areas, conduct visual exterior assessments, speak to residents, and schedule proactive inspections.
  • Incentivizing housing rehabilitation: To ensure property owners have the financial capacity to address home hazards, some programs provide income-eligible property owners with grants and/or loans to assist with repair, rehabilitation, and/or reconstruction of homes. Funding is often tied to specific forms of home improvement, such insulation, plumbing, or mold removal.
  • Raising tenant and landlord awareness: Many successful programs include a robust education component — often run by inspectors — to help landlords and tenants identify home hazards and other threats to home safety. This can include written materials, videos, and public workshops (for instance, walking through a home to demonstrate an inspection). Such efforts also often include information on how to request a home inspection.

Multiple systematic reviews of rigorous evaluations demonstrated that interventions focused on maintaining safe and healthy housing can improve health outcomes for residents, especially children.

  • A 2009 comprehensive analysis of healthy housing initiatives concluded that up to 81% of studied neighborhood-level interventions improved health and/or environmental outcomes for residents.
  • A 2008 systematic review of home-based interventions seeking to reduce asthma triggers for children found that they decreased asthma symptom days, school days missed, and acute healthcare visits, all while generating significant savings from averted costs of asthma care.

Before making investments in this strategy, city and county leaders should ensure it addresses local needs.

The Urban Institute has developed an indicator framework to help local leaders assess conditions related to upward mobility, identify barriers, and guide investments to address these challenges. These indicator frameworks can serve as a starting point for self-assessment, not as a comprehensive evaluation, and should be complemented by other forms of local knowledge.

The Urban Institute's Upward Mobility Framework identifies a set of key local conditions that shape communities’ ability to advance upward mobility and racial equity. Local leaders can use the Upward Mobility Framework to better understand the factors that improve upward mobility and prioritize areas of focus. Data reports for cities and counties can be created here.

Several indicators in the Upward Mobility Framework may be improved with investments in maintaining safe and healthy housing. To measure these indicators and determine if investments in these interventions could help, examine the following:

  • Housing stability: Number and share of public-school children who are ever homeless during the school year. These data are collected by local public school districts.

  • Social capital: Number of membership associations per 10,000 people and the ratio of residents’ Facebook friends with higher socioeconomic status to their Facebook friends with lower socioeconomic status. These data are available from the Census Bureau’s County Business Patterns and Opportunity Insights’ Social Capital Atlas, respectively.

  • Environmental quality: Examine air quality. These data are available from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Air Quality Index.

  • Safety from trauma: Number of deaths due to injury per 100,000 people. These data are available from the National Center for Health Statistics’ Mortality File and the CDC’s WONDER database.

  • Safety from crime: Reported property crimes per 100,000 people and reported violent crimes per 100,000 people. These data are available from the Federal Bureau of Investigations’ Uniform Crime Reporting Program.

  • Roll out the program gradually: Many healthy homes and housing quality programs include significant overhauls to existing inspection and related processes. By rolling out a program in a single neighborhood (ideally one with a relatively high rate of unremediated hazards), program leaders can identify and resolve challenges before broader implementation.
  • Engage with tenants and landlords: Public education efforts should be a foundation of any healthy homes and housing quality program. Tenants and property owners must be provided the resources necessary to identify hazards and how to approach remediation (i.e. scheduling an inspection or applying for a rehabilitation loan). Education can be delivered in a range of ways, including printed materials in multiple languages, public information sessions in community centers, social media campaigns, and more.
  • Build public trust: A common challenge with proactive home inspection programs is hesitance in allowing government employees into a home voluntarily. To address this dynamic, encourage inspectors to participate in community events and regularly speak to residents. It is especially important for inspectors to demonstrate a solutions-oriented, rather than punitive, approach. This can include warnings instead of fines for good-faith efforts that are delayed, follow-up reminders on deadlines for loan programs, and more.
  • Cultivate buy-in among inspectors: Home inspectors often anchor healthy homes and housing quality programs; if a tenant attends an education session and then recognizes a hazard, the program relies on an inspector to conduct a home visit and follow-up to ensure remediation. Because such programs often involve significant changes to an inspector’s schedule and responsibilities, it is crucial to prioritize cultivating buy-in among them during the program design phase.
  • Leverage data to set priorities: Many programs focus on increasing inspector efficiency rather than increasing staff. To do so, jurisdictions invest in data management software that can help inform the home inspection process. For instance, data tools can be used to draw territories that balance inspector caseloads, rather than by an arbitrary geographic boundary; inspectors can use the analysis to plan and prioritize their inspection routes; and investment in technology (such as tablets) can allow for real-time data collection and analysis.

Evidence-based examples

Professional home inspections evaluating environmental health risks
Stable and healthy families Supportive neighborhoods Kindergarten readiness
Funding in the form of loans and/or grants to income-eligible owner-occupants to assist with repair, rehabilitation, and/or reconstruction of homes
Stable and healthy families Supportive neighborhoods
Programs focused on removing lead-based and contaminated surfaces from homes and other buildings
Stable and healthy families Supportive neighborhoods Kindergarten readiness