As part of its mission to provide pro bono technical legal assistance on a wide range of public health issues, the Legal Resource Center for Public Health Policy (LRC) at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law is continually searching for ways to reach a broader variety of stakeholders.
LRC took a step forward in that regard by co-hosting the Maryland Healthy Housing Symposium on June 1 at Turf Valley Resort and Conference Center in suburban Baltimore. LRC director and law school professor Kathleen Hoke, JD ’92, greeted approximately 100 federal, state, and local health and housing officials at the symposium, which focused on challenges faced by vulnerable populations who live in substandard housing, increasing their susceptibility to related illness and injury.
Topics included: the link between housing and health; the environmental exposures that affect individuals in the home (lead, radon, mold, etc.); the impact smoking has on individuals living in multi-unit housing; and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) proposed rule to prohibit smoking in public housing — specifically, what it would mean for public housing authorities and residents in Maryland.
Hoke noted that “since its inception in 2001, the LRC has worked to assist state and local public health officials in addressing the devastating impact of exposure to secondhand smoke, with a particular focus on vulnerable populations, such as youth, senior citizens, and those with chronic illnesses.”
The LRC assisted with gaining passage of the 2007 Maryland Clean Indoor Air Act and related regulations, securing protections for hospitality workers who had been carved out of protections when other workplaces were rendered smoke-free in 1992. “Seeking these same protections for those exposed in public housing was a natural extension of these earlier efforts,” Hoke said.
In addition to attracting public housing authorities, property managers and owners, local health departments and coalitions, and faith- and community-based organizations from across Maryland and the District of Columbia, the symposium also featured a wide range of health and housing experts as speakers.
Peter Ashley, DrPH, HUD’s director of Healthy Homes and Lead Hazard Control, discussed the agency’s role in overseeing public housing authorities and federally subsidized properties, and promoting healthier homes programs nationwide. He highlighted economic, health, and safety reasons for HUD proposing a rule that would require all public housing authorities to prohibit smoking in individual units, common areas, and within 25 feet of buildings.
“Secondhand smoke has a lot of toxic and carcinogenic chemicals, and it doesn’t stay only in the unit of the smoker in a multi-family property,” Ashley said. “Also, tobacco smoking is an important safety issue in that it is the major cause of fatal residential fires.”
Cliff Mitchell, MS, MD, MPH, director of the Environmental Health Bureau for the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DHMH), which co-sponsored the symposium with Maryland Carey Law, spoke about the link between housing and emotional, mental, and physical health; the importance of providing healthy and safe living spaces, particularly for vulnerable populations, such as children; and the prominent role that communities play in ensuring access to healthy and safe housing.
Other speakers included LRC deputy director and symposium organizer William Tilburg, JD ’11; Dana Moncrief, MHS, CHES, chief, Statewide Public Health Initiatives, DHMH; Tiffany Smith, MHSA, from Howard County Housing; Tiffany Nicolette from Shelter Properties, LLC; Laura Hale from the American Lung Association; and Bob Vollinger, MSPH, program director, Tobacco Control Research Branch, National Institutes of Health.
“The speakers brought many different perspectives to the discussion of ethical and effective methods of assuring healthy housing for the least among us,” said Hoke, who opened and closed the five-hour symposium. “Simply gathering an eclectic group of health and housing officials, offering various voices and perspectives during the symposium, and allowing for vigorous discussion created an environment rich for further collaboration and cooperation. This cross-cutting effort should result in comprehensive policy options to reduce not only exposure to secondhand smoke but also to other environmental hazards, such as radon and mold.”
In addition to tobacco regulation and environmental health, the LRC has has been examining the public health consequences of electronics; the medical use of marijuana; and regulation of gambling hotline ads.
Hoke sees the center playing an even greater innovative role in the future.
“In collaboration with the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and Maryland’s 24 local health departments, we are working to develop sound, evidence-based policy options appropriate for state and local governments and for public and private housing. The Maryland Healthy Housing Symposium took us another step along that path.”