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Federal funds target asthma triggers in New Haven homes

The Soldiers and Sailors Monument on the top of East Rock in New Haven, Conn. as seen over housetops after the first snowfall of the year.
Ryan Caron King
Connecticut Public
Federal funds will help the city of New Haven pay for home repairs aimed at mitigating the prevalence of asthma, a longtime problem in the city, especially in lower-income areas.

New Haven ranked seventh among cities with the highest estimated asthma prevalence in 2018, according to a brief by Yale University. Now a $2 million federal grant headed to the city could help address the problem. The investment will go toward fixing housing issues like moisture, mold, mildew and pests – all identified as asthma triggers

Asthma has long troubled the city. In 2015 a health survey found that asthma rates in the city’s six lowest-income neighborhoods were 23%, compared with a statewide average of only 14% of residents who suffered from asthma and a nationwide average of 13%. Data shows asthma is not just a health issue, but it’s also a poverty issue.

State and local officials say the high rates, in part, are due to the city’s aging housing stock.

“Seventy percent of all homes in New Haven were built prior to 1978,” said Rafael Ramos, the city’s environmental enforcement specialist. He said that’s why the city is excited to welcome the grant that will help address repairs in 200 low-income homes.

Ramos was joined by New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal and other city officials Monday morning to announce the news. They did so in front of homes on Grafton Street – a low-income opportunity zone neighborhood with poor housing conditions that would benefit from the federal grant.

“We know that when individuals have healthy homes, they can have better health outcomes,” said Maritza Bond, the city’s public health director.

Senator Blumenthal helped bring the money to New Haven and he said one of the main reasons was for children’s health.

Asthma impacts almost 15% of school-aged children and disproportionately affects children of color in New Haven, according to a brief by the Yale Global Health Justice Partnership’s Asthma Working Group.

“The leading cause for school absenteeism in New Haven is asthma,” Blumenthal said. “Nothing is more important to a kid’s health than their home. Moisture, mildew, air quality, pests – they undermine children’s health when there is too much lead, but also when asthma is aggravated, when radon is present. They are the reason children are absent from school.”

Camila Vallejo is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms. She is a bilingual reporter based out of Fairfield County and welcomes all story ideas at cvallejo@ctpublic.org.

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