Racial disparities in government responses to asthma-triggering housing conditions

April 14, 2022 – In Boston, people of color and poorer people are more frequently exposed to unhealthy housing conditions that can trigger asthma, and the city is typically slower to address these problems than in whiter areas, according to a new study led by researchers at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

The study was published April 4, 2022 in Health Affairs.

By examining records from Boston’s Inspectional Services Department, the researchers found that tenants in low-income and racially diverse neighborhoods reported more issues with indoor air quality, mold, and pest infestations than people living in whiter areas. Further, the city’s responses to complaints were worse in diverse and poorer neighborhoods; they were slower, more likely to be overdue, and less likely to lead to repairs.

“It’s clear from our study the city needs to do more to protect rights of tenants to live in a healthy home,” said Adam Haber, senior author and assistant professor of computational biology and environmental health at Harvard Chan School, in an April 11, 2022 Boston Globe article.

Policies to reduce health disparities could include stronger inspectional standards and enforcement, with the goal of increasing landlords’ accountability. “This legacy of institutional racism is still driving health outcomes,” Haber said. “The regulatory system isn’t doing enough to correct them.”

Read the Boston Globe article: Research finds stark racial disparities in how Boston responds to unhealthy conditions that trigger asthma

Learn more: Interactive web series explores environmental racism (Harvard Chan feature)