What Happens To Families And Seniors Who Live In Unsafe & Sick Homes During A Crisis

Picture this. You are entering a home. You pull into the driveway and can barely see the house behind the over grown grass and shrubs surrounding the property. When you get to the front door, you notice a musty odor in the air. You reach down for the door handle, covered in rust with a broken lock. As you open the door, the smell you observed outside hits your nose just as you take in your last deep breath of fresh air from the outside. The black spots that once only covered the front hallway ceiling now extend all the way to the kitchen, and the paint is chipping and peeling off the walls. As you walk down the hallway the floor boards lift with every step, so you walk slowly, looking down to make sure you don’t trip and fall. You enter the kitchen that has natural light coming in through the window over the sink. You can see by the wear on the floor that at one point your mother stood here often, doing the dishes and preparing dinner for her family. Your thought is interrupted by the sound of a dripping faucet. You try to shut it off. As you turn the knob, it keeps spinning but no water comes out, and you can’t stop the leak.

Today, more than two million Americans live without running water and basic indoor plumbing, and many more without sanitation. According to the U.S Energy Information Administration, nearly one-third of U.S. households (31%) reported facing a challenge in paying energy bills or sustaining adequate heating and cooling in their homes. About one in five households has to reduce or forgo food, medicine and other necessities to pay an energy bill at some point in their lives. Of those households, 7 million of them face that decision nearly every month. It’s hard to imagine that these living conditions are what many of our neighbors in Central Florida face, but for many, it’s a choice between unhealthy housing or no housing at all.

Our team at Rebuilding Together of Central Florida gets phone calls about living conditions like these on a regular basis. Dilapidated and unsafe homes are in many neighborhoods. Families are facing these problems everywhere. It might be happening to your elderly neighbor down the street, or the single mother next door. There was once a time where we used to know our neighbors. Behind every front door, there is a story of home. Unfortunately, not everyone's story is a positive one.

Having a place to live is not the same as living in a safe and healthy home.

It’s no surprise that living in hazardous and unhealthy conditions causes a long list of health problems. Dust, mold, and pests can cause asthma and respiratory infections. Low exposure to lead paint can cause health effects such as learning disabilities and behavioral problems in children. High levels of exposure to lead may cause lead poisoning and other issues such as anemia and impaired brain and nervous system functions. Unsafe structural conditions, such as faulty wiring, or lifting floor boards increase the risk of fire and injury. Having to choose between keeping the lights on and eating a healthy diet, or paying your mortgage and not paying the water bill are not really choices at all.

Improving quality of life by providing safe and healthy housing

At Rebuilding Together of Central Florida our vision is for every family to live in a safe and healthy home. We repair homes at no cost to homeowners so they are able to stay in their affordable homes and improve their quality of life. The Department of Housing and Urban Development states if a family pays more than 30% of their income for housing, it is considered a cost burden. An estimated 12 million renter and homeowner households now pay more than 50% of their annual incomes for housing. Some Rebuilding Together of Central Florida homeowners spend as much as 80% of their income on housing and utility costs.

619,800 low-income, cost burdened households in Florida are headed by seniors 65 or older. For low-income households that have members with one or more disabilities, 597,577 (30%) are cost burdened. According to the United Way of Florida, the “survival wage” for a household with two adults, one child, and one preschooler was $27.58 per hour in 2016 (adjusted for inflation), or $13.79 per hour for each adult. Although the current median wage for all occupations in Florida is $16.07, occupations with a median wage below $13.79 per hour comprise 38% of all jobs in the state. Most of the jobs that fall below the Minimum Survival Wage are

essential to our economy. They are grocery store workers, janitors, security guards, food servers, nursing assistants. In recent weeks, the pandemic has shown how important these jobs are to our community. These employees that are required to go to work every day to risk their own safety to accommodate the needs of others, are the same one who are returning to hazardous and unhealthy homes.

Why are homes falling into disrepair?

We are living in a tough economy for low and moderate income homeowners, and with the rise of cases of COVID-19 across our country, it is likely that the economic fallout of the pandemic will have a lasting, disproportionate impact on the folks who are already struggling. according to the Federal Reserve's 2018 report on the economic well-being of U.S. households almost 40% of American adults can’t afford a $400 emergency with cash, savings or a credit-card charge that they could quickly pay off. Home repair costs, although essential, are very costly and not always covered by homeowner’s insurance. When homeowners can’t afford the repair, they may have to live with the issue. Over time problems grow worse, and the repairs necessary to keep a safe and healthy roof over their heads become totally out of reach. A small roof leak in the front hall leads to mold throughout the hallway. The family does their best to clean up the mold on their own, but it spreads faster than they can keep up, and the elementary school aged child who lives there starts showing signs of breathing issues. Doctor’s visits and prescription costs pile up. Paying for professional mold remediation and a roof patch can cost thousands of dollars, and now the family must choose between keeping up with the child’s medical bills or fixing the roof. The small hole in the roof that could have been patched becomes ripped wide open when a hurricane blows through, and now the family is no longer protected from the elements. What starts as a minor or moderate problem can quickly snowball out of control.

What happens to these families and seniors during a health crisis?

Researchers in China have shown that patients who are already sick or who have compromised immune systems have a 79% greater chance of requiring intensive care or death from COVID-19 than their healthy peers. The environmental illnesses members of our community are exposed to from living in their homes are putting them at a greater risk of catching, and spreading the virus. When homes are safe and healthy, our neighbors are more likely to be healthy too. We must also remember that people who are hospitalized today due to COVID-19 will return back home, many to unsafe conditions.

Health starts at home.

Safe and healthy housing for all is more important now than ever. As our community stays home to prevent the spread of COVID-19, consider what you can do to make your home and your community safer for all those who live here To learn more how to protect your home and help your neighbors, visit our website and view our 25 Safe and Healthy housing priorities checklist.

Since 2002, Rebuilding Together of Central Florida has helped more then 500 homeowners receive critical home repair. In 2019, we repaired 71 houses into safe and healthy homes, rebuilding the lives of 213 individuals. Want to support Rebuilding Together of Central Florida’s efforts to help our neighbors in need? Click here. Visit www.rebuildingtogethercfl.org to learn more ways on how you can get involved.


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