City Council Cracks Down on Asthma Triggers

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn introduced legislation on Nov. 30 to force landlords to clean up buildings that contain mold, vermin, and other asthma triggers.

The city’s Safe Housing Law already targets the 200 buildings that have the worst record of violations for cellar-to-roof inspection and repairs at the landlord’s expense.  Quinn’s proposed expansion of the law would specifically designate known asthma triggers such as vermin, mold, and other environmental factors as conditions mandating improvement. The legislation would also benefit a greater number of apartments.

In a press conference on the steps of City Hall, Quinn stood with tenant-activists from organizations like the South Brooklyn-based Fifth Avenue Committee and the Bushwick-based Make the Road NY and Northwest Brooklyn Councilwoman Letitia James to announce the expansion.

Quinn said she was pleased that the “very significant” law would expand to take on the issue of asthma.

“Some landlords are simply lawless bad actors and those buildings should get more focused attention from our Department of Housing.  And our Department of Housing should have greater power to go in and enforce in those buildings,” she said.

Quinn is confident that this expansion will be approved by the Council.

Asthma educators such as James Mantle of the Brenda Pillors Asthma Education Program at Long Island University’s Brooklyn Campus applaud the development.

“That’s better than the system they have now. The only recourse you have is to call 311.  It could be weeks or months before someone addresses it to your landlord. And then there is no follow up and no real enforcement,” Mantle said.

One Make the Road activist and Bushwick resident, Luisa Mejia, said that the terrible conditions in the building where she has lived for 20 years have caused her and her family’s severe asthma attacks.  Mejia blamed the asthma epidemic on landlords who do not maintain their buildings.

“The terrible conditions in our building badly affect our asthma. There is a lot of mold in the bathroom and mice and cockroaches throughout my apartment,” she said.

Asthma is a public health issue of particular concern to residents of Bushwick, as well as many other areas of Brooklyn.  According to The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s (DOH)statistics, incidence of asthma and hospitalization for severe attacks is about twice as high in Bushwick as in the city as a whole.

“In Bushwick you have expressways, aging housing and industry, more cockroaches, cockroach sprays, truck routes, overhead trains.  All of these are known triggers,” said Rebecca Kalin of Asthma Free School Zone.

The expansion of the Safe Housing Law will also prioritize pest removal. This is crucial because, according to a nationwide survey by the US Department of Health and Human Services, dead bodies of cockroaches, as well as their fecal matter, saliva, and skins are the number-one contributors to childhood asthma in inner cities.

Desire La Tempa of Woodhull Hospital’s Asthma Program points out though, that there is no silver bullet for controlling asthma and that triggers vary from patient to patient.

“The patient must be educated for his or her condition, what can trigger their asthma and how to control it. That is the best thing that we can do for our community,” she said.

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