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Of Mice and Mold: 40% of American Homes Have Health, Safety Hazards

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A new report released this week by the National Center for Healthy Housing (NCHH) ranks Washington, D.C., 16th out of 45 metro areas for the health and safety of its housing. D.C. previously ranked 9th on the list. The most prevalent problems with D.C. houses include roof issues, water leakage and signs of mice. These housing conditions have been linked to asthma and other respiratory problems.

Nationally, the study reveals that 35 million, or 40 percent, of metropolitan homes in the U.S. have one or more health and safety hazards. The physical conditions of U.S. housing declined 5 percent since the 2009 survey.

The findings are part of NCHH's The State of Healthy Housing, a comprehensive study of housing conditions in 46 metropolitan areas. The report uses data from the American Housing survey, which is sponsored by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and collected by the Census Bureau.

The metropolitan areas of San Jose, Calif.; Indianapolis, Ind.; and Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, Fla.; rank at the top of the list for having the healthiest housing. At the bottom of the list for having the least healthy housing are San Antonio, Texas; Birmingham, Ala; and Memphis, Tenn.

Nationally, the most common issues making houses unhealthy include water leaks from the outside, affecting 11 percent of D.C. metro area homes, followed by signs of mice (10 percent), and interior water leaks (9 percent).

Across metropolitan statistical areas, rental properties tend to have more problems than owner-occupied dwellings. Central city housing has more problems than housing located outside the central city. Central city rental properties are typically older and are more likely to be inhabited by lower income residents.

While most Americans tune up their cars every 3,000 miles, house tune ups occur far less often. The result is both hidden and obvious threats to health and safety. Moreover, many people don't think about these hazards until someone in their family becomes ill or is injured. Too often we read about preventable carbon monoxide poisoning, lead poisoning, electrical fires and other problems that make homes one of the most dangerous places we spend time.

Communities, local housing authorities, property managers and individuals need to be aware of these housing issues. They end up costing us in the form of an array of health problems, including asthma, lead poisoning and cancer. These environmental-related diseases are estimated to cost the U.S. $70 billion a year.

The good news is that relatively simple repairs can correct many problems. We are providing homeowners with tips, and in some cases resources, to keep homes safe and healthy. Through our policy, partnerships, and consumer and professional trainings, we are committed to the mission of ensuring a safe and healthy place to call home.

This month, NCHH kicked off the Healthy Housing Challenge with partner, Rebuilding Together, the nation's leader in volunteer home repairs. The Challenge enables volunteers, from local church groups to Wells Fargo employees, to make repairs at no charge to prevent health and safety hazards in the homes of low-income families, seniors, veterans, and persons with disabilities. In nine cities across the U.S., including Arlington and Alexandria, Va., recommendations and critical repairs to area housing are being made.

About the National Center for Healthy Housing

The National Center for Healthy Housing is the preeminent national nonprofit dedicated to creating safe and healthy housing for America's families. It has trained over 35,000 individuals in lead-safe and healthy housing practices, and its research provides the scientific basis for major federal policies and programs.

Follow NCHH on Twitter @nchh

For more healthy housing tips and consumer stories: www.hhchallenge.org/