“It is clear that unhealthy and unsafe housing has an impact on the health of millions of people in the United States, which is why we must do everything we can to ensure that individuals and families have a healthy place to call home.”  -HUD Shaun Donovan

Owners and property managers spend countless hours fine tuning marketing plans and studying research to help them attract qualified tenants. While improving amenities and maintaining a beautiful property are excellent strategies for winning and keeping high-quality tenants, many property owners aren’t aware of the correlation between housing and health when it comes to multifamily housing environments.

Near the turn of the 20th century, advocates for safer housing began pushing for policies that reduced overcrowding and improved fire safety regulations in tenements. One of the first regulations to impact the way multifamily housing managers mitigate health and safety problems was the Tenement House Act, enacted in 1901. Not surprisingly, the act required indoor plumbing and adequate windows for light and ventilation.

Today, the issues aren’t whether or not apartment homes and condos have these amenities, but how well they serve the residents. Are the windows energy-efficient? Do your apartments use low-flow toilets and tankless water heaters?

Consider these findings from HUD.gov. Low-income seniors struggle to find safe, affordable housing and access to resources that support a healthy lifestyle, according to HUD Assistant Secretary for Policy Development and Research Katherine M. O’Regan. O’Regan says that more than 1.6 million seniors live in government subsidized homes. These “HUD-assisted older adults” typically spend more Medicare dollars than their peers for health management and treatment.

Even if your property doesn’t exclusively serve the elderly population in your community, focusing your attention on improving indoor air quality and eliminating health hazards for your tenants is a crucial step towards improving their housing and health longevity.

The 2014 National Healthy Homes Conference co-sponsored by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and Rebuilding Together, revealed myriad challenges for multifamily property leaders in the twenty-first century. Old problems – like lead based paint, old plumbing and radon – still exist in older homes. Also, nascent efforts to create energy-efficient building materials and fixtures actually lessened indoor quality.

There is a renewed interest in developing new strategies that improve safety and reduce health risk, while keeping a watchful eye on our environment.

Where do you start?

Understand that improving housing quality will improve health and wellness for your residents. HUD recommends focusing on these key areas to improve housing and health.

  • Apartments should be dry and clean. Repair leaks that may encourage mold growth and seal surfaces with treatments that reduce moisture infiltration to control bacteria spread.
  • Every home should be pest free. Implement a property-wide pest control program.
  • Control contaminant exposure. Revisit your property’s chemical management protocol for maintenance and housekeeping. Update your recycling program. If you replace appliances and fixtures, consider the product emissions.
  • Well-maintained windows provide ventilation and natural sunlight vital for health and wellness. Routinely inspect all windows for integrity and operation. Vents in kitchens and bathrooms also support proper ventilation.
  • Heating and air conditioning systems pose numerous problems. Schedule twice yearly inspections and replace air filters regularly to keep the systems running efficiently.
  • Behavior impacts indoor air quality. Advise tenants about the risks associated with strong chemicals and encourage them to use environmentally friendly alternatives for washing and cleaning when possible. While most apartment communities do not restrict resident smoking, your property could offer incentives to residents that quit smoking or voluntarily smoke only in designated outdoor.

Multifamily housing has changed dramatically over the past century, but there is still much to do to make sure apartment living is healthy and safe. What do you think? Could your property pass a fitness test?