Reducing asthma admissions by “hotspotting” housing code violations

Monday, October 2, 2017

When the families of several kids with asthma were threatened with evictions for using their medically-recommended air conditioners, a Cincinnati MLP got involved. What they learned helped them transform 700 units of housing in the community.

When a child sees a doctor at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center (CCHMC), that doctor is trained to know that unsafe housing may be causing or exacerbating the child’s asthma or other chronic health problems. The doctor also knows that when she asks the family about their housing, there will be something she can do to help them other than provide medical assistance. For years, CCHMC has worked with the Greater Legal Aid Society of Cincinnati through their medical-legal partnership to address housing problems for patients.

In the summer of 2010, three different doctors sent families to the MLP attorneys because their landlords were threatening eviction if they used air conditioners; a treatment that had been recommended by the doctors to help manage the asthma. When the attorneys met with the families, they asked a very important question, “Who owns your building?”

Turns out, each family lived in a different building owned by the same landlord. And the problem was not just the unlawful threatened evictions, but that the landlord lived out of state, was in foreclosure, and was doing nothing to take care of the 19 buildings he owned with 700 units of low-income housing throughout Cincinnati.

Finding the common thread of the landlord opened the door for different kind of intervention. Instead of addressing only the needs of the original three families, the medical-legal partnership helped get improvements made to all the buildings, including new roofs, heating and air-conditioning in many of them. Later the buildings were sold to a local non-profit and the community got a multi-million dollar grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to continue improvements to the buildings. Because of these changes, many families who never met with the medical-legal partnership team directly were able to get and stay healthy.