Photograph of the top two floors of a new residential building.
Photograph of two adjacent three-story residential buildings. On the left is a wood-frame building under construction, and on the right is an old brick building.
Photograph of a partially demolished multistory brick building with two large signs in the foreground detailing the redevelopment plans for Old Colony Homes Phase I.
Photograph of the front façade of a newly constructed, multistory residential building.
Interior photograph of a kitchen in a residential unit showing a refrigerator, cabinetry, stove with range hood, sink, and dishwasher.

 

Home >Case Studies >BRIGHT Study Finds Improved Health at Boston Housing Authority’s Old Colony Homes

 

BRIGHT Study Finds Improved Health at Boston Housing Authority’s Old Colony Homes

 

For more than 15 years, Boston Housing Authority (BHA) has executed efforts to improve residents’ health through changes in environment and behavior. One of these initiatives was the Boston Residential Investigation on Green and Healthy Transitions (BRIGHT) study, a collaborative effort with the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the Committee for Boston Public Housing to measure the impact of healthy housing features and practices on resident health, satisfaction, and comfort. The BRIGHT study used BHA’s redevelopment of several public housing properties, such as the distressed 840-unit Old Colony public housing community built in 1941, to examine residents’ health. Funded by a HUD 2010 Healthy Homes Technical Studies grant, the study compared the health of residents living in the old housing with residents’ health in new units with healthy housing features and practices. The redeveloped housing included smoke-free housing policies, improved ventilation, and tight building envelopes. In recognition of BHA’s healthy housing policies and practices, which led to measurable health benefits for low- and moderate-income families, the BRIGHT study was awarded the 2016 HUD Secretary’s Award for Healthy Homes in the Public Housing/Multifamily Supported Housing category.

The BRIGHT Study

The BRIGHT study was conducted between 2011 and 2014 at three BHA properties: Old Colony, Ruth Barkley Apartments, and Washington Beech. At the time of the study, BHA had completed the redevelopment of Washington Beech and the first phase of Old Colony Homes, and work at Ruth Barkley Apartments had just begun. John Kane, senior program coordinator at BHA, describes this situation as a natural experiment, allowing researchers to compare information on the health of residents at the old, conventional housing and at the new, healthy housing, with the residents of Ruth Barkley serving as a control group. Studying BHA residents exclusively allowed the researchers to minimize bias from differences in location and socioeconomic effects. The researchers found Old Colony to be a particularly appropriate site for the BRIGHT study because they could study residents as they moved from the old housing to the new units in Old Colony Phase I.

In the first phase of the redevelopment of Old Colony, 164 units were demolished and replaced with 116 new, healthy units. The replacement housing at Old Colony Homes and Washington Beech incorporated features that support the eight principles of healthy housing, such as finishes with no or low amounts of volatile organic compounds, tight building envelopes, improved insulation and ventilation, decentralized heating and air conditioning, and ENERGY STAR® electric appliances. BHA also applied its smoke-free housing policy, which the agency has implemented at all redeveloped properties since 2012. In addition, BHA gave all residents who moved into the replacement housing educational materials on healthy housing prepared by the Massachusetts College of Art and Design in both English and Spanish.

Researchers collected data in 2012 and 2013 to assess the impact of the healthy housing features and practices. To study changes in resident health, researchers surveyed three groups of residents: a control group of households who lived in the old housing for both years; households who lived in the new, healthy housing for both years; and residents who lived in Old Colony in the first year and moved to Old Colony Homes Phase I in the second year. To measure changes in air quality, the research team compared households who lived in the old housing for both years and residents who lived in Old Colony and then moved to Old Colony Homes Phase I. This part of the study measured the levels of particles and pollutants, such as nicotine and nitrogen oxide, in the air, in vacuums, and on the walls and flooring of the old and replacement housing. Researchers also compared the number and cost of work orders in the old and replacement housing units.

The BRIGHT study’s findings thus far reveal differences in indoor air quality and resident health between the conventional and healthy units. Concentrations of pollutants in BHA’s new housing units were 93 percent lower for nicotine, 65 percent lower for nitrogen oxide, and 57 percent lower for particulate matter less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter than in the conventional units. Compared with those living in the conventional units, residents in the healthy units filed fewer reports of pests and mold and experienced 47 percent fewer symptoms of sick building syndrome. In addition, the researchers found that asthmatic children in the healthy units had a lower risk of visiting the hospital or having asthmatic symptoms, asthma attacks, and asthma-related school absences than did residents of the conventional units.

A Growing Focus on Resident Health

Many earlier BHA efforts led the way for the BRIGHT study. Around 2000, residents of BHA housing began voicing concerns about their health and quality of life as well as the presence of pests. Between 2001 and 2005, BHA partnered with local schools of public health to explore the relationship between pest control and asthma through the Healthy Public Housing Initiative. This initiative included a study of the relationships between the presence of pests, pest control practices, and the prevalence of asthma. Building on that work, BHA and its partners conducted the Healthy Pest Free Housing Initiative between 2006 and 2010 to test strategies to reduce the presence of pests and the need for pesticides in units. These strategies improved the health of 51 percent of residents and 54 percent of households who reported a family member with asthma. These results led BHA to apply Integrated Pest Management principles to all housing in its portfolio in 2008 and incorporate those principles in its Integrated Pest Management specifications.

Building on the BRIGHT Study

Gary Adamkiewicz, assistant professor of environmental health and exposure disparities at Harvard University and the principal investigator for the BRIGHT study, says that two journal articles will soon report BRIGHT study findings. One article will focus on BRIGHT study participants’ thermal comfort, for which no statistics are currently available. The other article will examine the utility cost savings of the new units compared with those of the conventional units. Data indicate that the healthy units have already reduced utility costs for BHA. For example, Kane and Adamkiewicz note that annual water, gas, and electric costs are more than 60 percent lower at Old Colony Homes Phase I than for similarly sized buildings at the prerenovation Old Colony community. Contributing to this improvement is BHA’s flat electricity allowance (adjusted for bedroom size) for residents of Old Colony Homes Phase I, which encourages them to keep their energy use low.

In light of the demonstrated health benefits and utility cost savings, BHA has implemented its healthy housing features and practices in the completed Old Colony Homes Phase II and the nearly complete Phase III, and the housing agency will also implement healthy housing features and practices in Phase IV and other future projects. Adamkiewicz believes that the positive results of the BRIGHT study also make the case for considering other opportunities to improve housing and health through renovation and weatherization.


 

Source:

Boston Housing Authority. n.d. “Healthy Homes Initiatives.” Accessed March 15, 2017; Boston Housing Authority. n.d. “Old Colony.” Accessed March 15, 2017; Boston Housing Authority. 2011. “Master Plan for the Redevelopment of the Old Colony Housing Development: Boston, Massachusetts,” 1. Accessed March 15, 2017; U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Office of Policy Development and Research. 2016. “HUD Secretary’s Awards: Award for Healthy Homes: 2016: Public Housing/Multifamily Supported Housing: Boston Housing Authority (Boston, MA).” Accessed 14 March, 2017; Documents provided by Boston Housing Authority.

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Source:

Boston Housing Authority. n.d. “Healthy Homes Initiatives.” Accessed March 15, 2017; Interview with John Kane, 24 March 2017; Interview with Kate Bennett, deputy administrator for planning and sustainability at BHA, 10 April 2017; Interview with Gary Adamkiewicz, assistant professor of environmental health and exposure disparities at Harvard University, 31 March 2017; Meryl D. Colton, Piers MacNaughton, Jose Vallarino, John Kane, Mae Bennett-Fripp, John D. Spengler, and Gary Adamkiewicz. 2014. “Indoor Air Quality in Green Vs Conventional Multifamily Low-Income Housing,” Environmental Science & Technology 48:14, 7833–41; Meryl D. Colton, Jose Guillermo Cedeno Laurent, Piers MacNaughton, John Kane, Mae Bennett-Fripp, John Spengler, and Gary Adamkiewicz. 2015. “Health Benefits of Green Public Housing: Associations With Asthma Morbidity and Building-Related Symptoms,” American Journal of Public Health 105:12, 2482–9.

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Source:

Boston Housing Authority. n.d. “Old Colony Redevelopment.” Accessed March 15, 2017; Boston Housing Authority. n.d. “Smoke-Free Housing at BHA.” Accessed March 27, 2017; Boston Housing Authority. n.d. “Welcome Home: Keeping Your New Home Green and Healthy.” Accessed March 27, 2017; U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. n.d. “Making Homes Healthier for Families.” Accessed March 27, 2017; Interview with John Kane, 24 March 2017; Interview with Gary Adamkiewicz, assistant professor of environmental health and exposure disparities at Harvard University, 31 March 2017; Documents provided by Boston Housing Authority.

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Source:

Interview with Gary Adamkiewicz, assistant professor of environmental health and exposure disparities at Harvard University, 31 March 2017; Meryl D. Colton, Jose Guillermo Cedeno Laurent, Piers MacNaughton, John Kane, Mae Bennett-Fripp, John Spengler, and Gary Adamkiewicz. 2015. “Health Benefits of Green Public Housing: Associations With Asthma Morbidity and Building-Related Symptoms,” American Journal of Public Health 105:12, 2482–9; Meryl D. Colton, Piers MacNaughton, Jose Vallarino, John Kane, Mae Bennett-Fripp, John D. Spengler, and Gary Adamkiewicz. 2014. “Indoor Air Quality in Green Vs Conventional Multifamily Low-Income Housing,” Environmental Science & Technology 48:14, 7833–41.

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Source:

Interview with Gary Adamkiewicz, assistant professor of environmental health and exposure disparities at Harvard University, 31 March 2017; Interview with Kate Bennett, deputy administrator for planning and sustainability at BHA, 10 April 2017; Meryl D. Colton, Piers MacNaughton, Jose Vallarino, John Kane, Mae Bennett-Fripp, John D. Spengler, and Gary Adamkiewicz. 2014. “Indoor Air Quality in Green Vs Conventional Multifamily Low-Income Housing,” Environmental Science & Technology 48:14, 7833–41; Meryl D. Colton, Jose Guillermo Cedeno Laurent, Piers MacNaughton, John Kane, Mae Bennett-Fripp, John Spengler, and Gary Adamkiewicz. 2015. “Health Benefits of Green Public Housing: Associations With Asthma Morbidity and Building-Related Symptoms,” American Journal of Public Health 105:12, 2842–9.

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Source:

Interview with John Kane, 24 March 2017; Boston Housing Authority. n.d. “Healthy Homes Initiatives.” Accessed March 15, 2017; Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. n.d. “Healthy Public Housing Initiative.” Accessed 28 March 2017; Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. 2003. “Healthy Public Housing Initiative: Fact Sheet.” Accessed 28 March 2017; Boston Public Health Commission. n.d. “Healthy Pest Free Housing Initiative.” Accessed 28 March 2017; Boston Public Health Commission. n.d. “IPM and Policy.” Accessed 28 March 2017; Boston Public Health Commission. n.d. “Overview of Outcomes of the Healthy Pest Free Housing Initiative.” Accessed 28 March 2017; Documents provided by Boston Housing Authority.

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Source:

Interview with John Kane, 24 March 2017; Interview with Gary Adamkiewicz, 31 March 2017; Documents provided by Boston Housing Authority.

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Source:

Interview with John Kane, 24 March 2017; Interview with Gary Adamkiewicz, 31 March 2017; Interview with Kate Bennett, deputy administrator for planning and sustainability at BHA, 10 April 2017; Boston Housing Authority. n.d. “Smoke-Free Housing at BHA.” Accessed March 27, 2017; Boston Housing Authority. n.d. “Boston REACH: Partners in Health and Housing.” Accessed March 27, 2017.

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