Creating sustainable public housing has obvious environmental benefits, though researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health have uncovered strong evidence that it also reduces “sick building syndrome”.

The research, published in the American Journal of Public Health, found that asthma outcomes – hospitalisations, attacks and missed school days – for children in green low-income housing were also lower than in standard public housing.

“Green design incorporates many aspects that could reduce environmental exposures and improve health, such as the removal of pollution sources and the addition of exhaust ventilation,” lead author Meryl Colton said.

“Our study is unique in that it is the first green housing study large enough to examine changes in some important outcomes such as children’s asthma attacks and hospital visits.”

The researchers worked in collaboration with the Boston Housing Authority to gather data from public housing tenants over two years, including surveys with more than 200 residents and more than 400 home inspections. Half of the housing units included in the study had been built using green building standards and policies, while the other half were conventionally constructed.

The results showed that adults living in the green public housing – built with eco-friendly materials and with energy efficiency in mind – had fewer sick building syndrome symptoms, including headaches, itchy eyes, and breathing problems, than those living in conventional homes.

Asthmatic children living in green homes experienced substantially lower risk of asthma symptoms, too, which included asthmatic attacks, hospital visits and asthma-related school absences.

Green homes were also less likely to have inadequate ventilation, mold, secondhand smoke, pests and combustion byproducts inside, all of which can contribute to negative health outcomes.

“These results represent more than just the effect of better buildings,” senior author Gary Adamkiewicz said. “They represent the Boston Housing Authority’s commitment to improve conditions for their residents. Better buildings and better policies, such as better pest control practices and smoke-free policies, can effectively improve indoor environmental quality and improve health. We’re seeing the evidence that these approaches work in practice. We know that housing has a direct and meaningful effect on health. When you improve conditions, you can see the health benefits.”

In Australia, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation recently financed a range of energy-efficient low-income and affordable housing to be developed by SGCH.

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