Opinion Your Views — 01 May 2014
Going down the health and safety checklist on National Rebuilding Day

By Katharine Dixon, President, Rebuilding Together Alexandria
(Photo/Laura Sikes)

To the editor:

The coughing made him call.

Henry — an Alexandria homeowner who lives in a row house with his wife and two young children — noticed his children getting sick more frequently and often having lingering coughs. He suspected that the mold he found in his kitchen might be the culprit. But since his income was just covering the mortgage and basic living expenses, hiring a contractor remained beyond his ability.

Instead, he called us. Rebuilding Together Alexandria — a nonprofit dedicated to creating and preserving affordable housing — has helped thousands of limited-income property owners maintain their homes so they don’t have to choose between buying food and making a necessary repair.

When we got Henry’s call, we sent a skilled volunteer over to examine his place. We discovered that pipes had been leaking for many years and that the mold extended beyond his kitchen and into his home’s crawl space, providing a perfect ecosystem for growing mold. These pollutants were putting the whole family at risk of upper respiratory issues. We had professionals remediate his mold and install a vapor barrier in his crawl space to prevent future mold and mildew issues.

Today, his family is breathing easier.

In our community, one with so much older housing, these kinds of hazards are common. These pose significant risks to residents’ health and safety and often disproportionally affect low-income individuals.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, about seven million children in this country have asthma, with poor and minority children disproportionally affected. The national annual cost of asthma attributable to dampness and mold exposure in the home amounts to about $3.5 billion, according to the Environmental Protection Agency and Berkeley National Laboratory.

That’s why we are focusing even more on health and safety issues. In cooperation with the National Center for Healthy Housing, we’ve developed a “Health and Safety Check List,” which covers the 22 items that most directly contribute to healthy and safe housing. Before our volunteers go to a client’s home, they receive this checklist. Examples of the checks that they will perform include making sure the client has a working smoke and carbon monoxide alarm on each floor, proper ventilation of exhaust fans and clothes dryer, adequate lighting, no active water leaks and serious moisture issues and no electrical hazards.

Our first big opportunity to put this checklist into practice takes place on April 26, better known as National Rebuilding Day. During this national day of service, we will have more than 600 volunteers fanned out across the city doing repairs on 40 homes. In addition to the client’s wish list of repairs, we will also make sure to help them with these basic 22 items. We expect this simple check to make a significant difference in the lives of our clients and the health of our city.

If you would like to volunteer or need your house repaired, visit www.rebuildingtogetheralex.org or call 703-836-1021.

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