Fall is here and cold and flu season is underway. Americans catch one billion colds, collectively, every single year, and most of them will occur within the next few months, when the cold weather hits.
In recent months, however, more people have been falling even more ill in urban communities, specifically in low-income areas. Due to the drastic decrease in affordable housing, many people have been kicked to the streets, where chances of illness are even higher.
In addition to the cold and flu, homeless individuals are put at higher risk of hypertension, diabetes, asthma, infant mortality, drug addiction, and mental health issues.
A recent report by the New York Academy of Medicine focuses on East Harlem, which houses one of the poorest communities within New York City. East Harlem has lost nearly 2,000 units of affordable housing since 2011. That number is expected to rise to 6,000 within the next 10 years. Many of these affordable housing units are being converted to luxury market-rate apartments in an attempt to gentrify the area.
“The physical act of converting affordable housing to luxury brings with it an unhealthy, unsafe, and often toxic environment for tenants—especially for low to moderate income tenants who can’t simply move to avoid being subjected to such harassing conditions,” said Brandon Kielbasa of the Cooper Square Committee, an affordable housing advocacy organization.
Loud, hazardous, and dusty conditions during construction leave many building occupants sick through the process. Others are displaced or become homeless, leading to various stresses and health issues.
Homelessness and poverty are issues facing the entire country, but in an area as dense and expensive as New York City, the options for the homeless population are slim.
“My daughter and I suffered months of respiratory infections, where our doctor told us to wear a dust mask in our own home,” said one East Harlem resident. “A woman downstairs reported having her eye swollen shut as a result from a sinus infection which we also believe was caused by the dust we were forced to breathe in our own homes.”
Kielbasa encourages that affordable housing in the area be preserved, and believes that the area could use even more affordable units to replace sub-par housing that also causes severe illness to tenants.
“We must treat housing as not just a roof over our heads or a real estate investment,” said Sam Stein, a Ph.D. student at CUNY Graduate Center who has studied urban planning and gentrification, “but a basic human need that enables our very health and well-being.”