Bloomington city officials are traveling to North Carolina this week for the first gathering of a national initiative aimed at improving public health through housing.
The City of Bloomington was one of just six cities chosen for the National League of Cities (NLC) yearlong Healthy Housing City Leaders’ Forum. The other five are much larger: Baton Rouge, La.; Charlotte, N.C.; Detroit; Durham, N.C.; and Jersey City, N.J.
With technical assistance from NLC and by learning from peer cities, Bloomington hopes to create and implement a targeted, healthy housing strategy in cooperation with community partners, such as universities, hospitals, and other local employers, said City Planner Katie Simpson. The city hopes long-term to be able to work with those partners and to “learn and employ best practices for engaging developers to improve affordable housing options for residents,” according to the city’s application to the program.
“A lot of times people think health is an individual choice. But it’s not always that,” Simpson said on WGLT’s Sound Ideas. “It’s also influenced by how easily you can access a grocery store, or the quality of your house, or if you have sidewalks on your street so you can walk. There are a lot of environmental factors to consider.”
Bloomington’s efforts will be largely focused on the 61701 ZIP code, the oldest, most dense, and most racially and ethnically diverse area of the city.
That part of the city is the highest at-risk area for lead in the county. In the city’s application to the NLC Healthy Housing program, it cited a family of 11 who faced homelessness due to lead contamination in their apartment. One child in the family tested positive for elevated lead blood levels, and the family struggled to find an affordable, safe place to live.
“Stories like this are, unfortunately, not unique in our community,” the city wrote.
The 61701 ZIP code’s older housing stock is also more susceptible to mold and has higher levels of asbestos, which can aggravate a person’s asthma.
Other cities have leaned on partnerships to attack the problem. The city of Memphis—which recently ranked among the worst among large metro areas for unhealthy housing—joined the Green & Healthy Homes Initiative in 2017 to improve its housing stock. Partners there included local hospitals and universities.
In another unique partnership, the Cleveland Clinic turned over management of its laundry facility to a worker-owned cooperative that’s bolstered the city’s Collinwood neighborhood.
“It’s a different paradigm than what we’re used to, with respect to health," Simpson said.
The Bloomington Healthy Housing team includes the City of Bloomington, Bloomington Housing Authority, Mid Central Community Action, and the McLean County Health Department.
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