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Residential Department: Q&A: Ruth Ann Norton, Green & Healthy Homes Initiative: April 2015


Q&A: Ruth Ann Norton, Green & Healthy Homes Initiative

Ruth Ann Norton, president and CEO, Green & Healthy Homes Initiative

Healthy homes make healthy families and strong communities

The Green and Healthy Homes Initiative (GHHI) grew out of the Coalition to End Childhood Lead Poisoning and gained prominence in 2012 when it was featured by the Clinton Global Initiative America as an “innovative solution” to the housing crisis.

GHHI helps cities deal with home rehabilitation issues in low-income housing by bringing together disparate government agencies to improve delivery of services with often-limited resources by using a whole-house strategy that looks at the eight important elements of green and healthy homes: dry, clean, safe, well-ventilated, pest-free, contaminant free, well maintained and energy efficient.

The initiative has also drafted legislation to set standards using these elements, which the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development adopted in 2011, extending the reach of their work well beyond the 17 cities and state of Rhode Island where they currently work. We talked with Ruth Ann Norton, the driving force behind GHHI about how making houses safer, healthier and more energy efficient can also help residents keep their homes and build stronger communities.

How does your work help with wealth retention?

We have about a $400 to $700 average reduction in annual energy costs; the differences are the size of structures. In Baltimore structures are smaller. In Providence, R.I. for example, they’re much larger and some of the savings in units in Providence have been north of $1,100 a year.

We also did a recent study … and one of the most interesting facts that we saw is that we were improving parents’ ability to get to work and retain employment by 88 percent in the homes that we were doing our work because these parents were missing work because their children with asthma were repeatedly going to the emergency room or urgent care or were being hospitalized.

We also know that regardless of income, where we’re addressing these issues we’re more likely to stabilize families — they’re more likely to stay in houses that are healthier and more energy efficient. We’re lowering maintenance costs and we’re improving quality of life issues, all of which have a direct correlation to wealth retention.

How is asthma a green housing issue?

Data from a study we instituted showed a 62 percent improvement in school attendance for children [in our program]. Asthma is the number one reason — across all sectors of society — the number one reason why kids are missing school. There’s 14 million school days missed per year, and there’s about that many work days missed by parents who miss work because their kids have asthma. The Robert Wood Johnson foundation found that 40 percent of asthmatic episodes that are sending kids to the ER or to the hospital occur because of hazards in the home.

Why should the mortgage industry care about green and healthy homes?

Number one, anytime you’re holding a note on a home, you have the possibility of owning that home, so reducing lead paint hazards is clearly better for society but it’s also better in terms of marketability.

The other thing I think is really critical [is] the issue of energy efficiency. It has innumerable health benefits around asthma, but also if you have a property where the family is better able to afford the home because their heating bills have gone down $100 a month or $50 a month, or in some cases $300 a month … the family living in that more energy-efficient home is better able to make a mortgage payment.

What would you like brokers and bankers to know about GHHI?

I would actually encourage them to link up with someone who is doing healthy homes because they are skilled at being able to lower toxins and energy consumption by improving energy efficiency, which makes the asset of the home itself a higher marketable, higher value, sustainable asset.

I also think they ought to be looking at our standards and practices and principles for their own investments as foreclosure or pre-foreclosure efforts to change the trajectory of the family and their ability to pay — as well as the contribution of that house into a community — by implementing green and healthy house standards. We certainly think that that has economic value.

Ruth Ann Norton is president and CEO of Green & Healthy Homes Initiative, a groundbreaking national program built on a framework of cross-sector collaboration to efficiently deliver green, healthy and safe homes in communities throughout the nation. A founding member of the Maryland Lead Poisoning Prevention Commission, Norton led state efforts to reduce childhood lead poisoning by 98 percent, and is a liaison to the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention. Visit


Will McDermott is managing editor for Ask a Lender. Reach him at or (800) 297-6061.

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