Spotlight: Health and Housing Block Party on the Hill

Organization: City of Worcester Housing Development and Healthy Homes
Location: Worcester, Massachusetts
Contact: Jim Brooks, Director of Housing Development and Healthy Homes; brooksj@worcesterma.gov508-799-1400 x31427

Housing and Neighborhood Development of the City of Worcester are a department of city government focusing on revitalizing the neighborhoods and housing of Worcester. It is responsible for coordinating housing rehabilitation efforts, including projects focusing on indoor air quality, lead poisoning prevention, and codes. The office collaborates with the city health departments, local hospitals and healthcare facilities, federal government, and community-based organizations to improve the quality of life of Worcester’s residents and address the needs of each neighborhood.

The Health and Housing Block Party on the Hill was hosted in April of 2019 for the city of Worcester, its residents, the elected representatives of the city, and HUD officials. It was requested by HUD due to the city’s long history as a HUD lead grantee. The Block Party consisted of two main parts: a listening session between HUD officials, elected representatives, and local housing and health organizations; and the block party targeted towards the rest of the public. The goals of these were to educate the representatives on the healthy housing issues unique to the city, as well as informing the general population about asthma, lead, and other housing concerns.

We’ve been collaborating with local health and community-based initiatives to tackle housing issues directly related to Worcester’s unique housing landscape. With most houses and schools having been built during the Industrial Revolution era, many have fallen behind on repairs and cause harm to some of the city’s most vulnerable residents. The Block Party serves as a prime example of the collaborative nature of our work, and the long history of using HUD funding to improve the lives of the city residents. The listening session highlighted these particular struggles, and engaged with local representatives about the intersectional problems that form as a result – asthma, school attendance, and lead poisoning that could all be impacted by just a leaky roof. This meeting involved members of the local medical center, Realtors associations, the school nurse departments of the city, the Massachusetts asthma action partnership, and other grassroots groups. For example, the school nurses discussed with their representatives how the high rates of asthma in the city resulted in over 3,400 students across the districts missing school each year.

This party also highlights our community-based educational initiatives. The University of Massachusetts Memorial Medical Center brought their Ronald McDonald Care Mobile to the event and used it to test children for elevated blood lead levels and asthma on-site. Other local programs, such as Head Start, WIC, Habitat for Humanity, and the Realtors Association of Central Massachusetts, were present and providing information about opportunities and programs to attendees.

The biggest challenge for the event was collaboration, due to the sheer number of people and organizations involved. It took over three months for us to plan this party, having to work with the schedules of local representatives and their staff, as well as HUD officials. Ben Carson, the Secretary of HUD, was meant to attend before having to cancel days before the event.

This event was a success: Over 2,000 city residents came to the block party and had the opportunity to get more information about the resources available to them, and what they can do to ensure the health of their families. We were able to successfully work with Representative James McGovern, who has endorsed increases in healthy housing funding for HUD as a result. Engagement with state officials has also resulted in $50 million set-aside in the state budget for the city, in order to fund repairs to meet the sanitary and building code.

Online Resources: http://www.worcesterma.gov/housing-neighborhood-development