Housing as a Medical Necessity
Housing and health are clearly linked. Nowhere is this connection more evident than for people with environmental sensitivities.
People living with environmental sensitivities (sometimes called multiple chemical sensitivities or environmental illness) can be made severely ill by the presence of very low levels of pollutants in their homes. It could be the smell from an air freshener or scented cleaning product, off-gassing paint, dust from the carpet, mold, or the smell that comes off of new cabinetry. Most of us don’t realize it, but our homes are filled with pollutants that contaminate the air we breathe.
For people living with extreme environmental sensitivities, having appropriate, “healthy” housing can mean the difference between being able to live an independent, full life, and being totally disabled.
For the past few years, CERA has been working with landlord and property managers to address the needs of tenants with environmental sensitivities and improve the air quality in apartment buildings. While this is important work that could improve the housing conditions of tens of thousands of tenants, the reality is that our efforts will never reach those with the most severe sensitivities.
People with extreme environmental sensitivities will not be able to live healthy lives in apartment buildings – there are just too many environmental variables that they cannot control.
So what can these people do? If they have enough money, they may be able to find or make a healthy home. If they don’t – and people with severe sensitivities are often unable to work and are isolated from other supports – housing options are usually limited to the rental sector. And within this sector, a large proportion of the housing will be in apartment buildings. That means, for many of these people there are NO housing options – they will be homeless.
These people need safe housing. It is medically necessary. However, there are very few affordable homes in Canada that have been designed specifically for people with environmental sensitivities. Safe Housing Ottawa has been struggling for a number of years to build an environmentally safe housing development, but they’re not there yet.
And I don’t know of any public funds that will assist these folks to make or retrofit a home so that they can live healthy, full lives.
Governments at all levels need to recognize this glaring failure of housing, social and health policy – and fix it!