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Education and Demonstration

Project Details

Year: 2003-2004
Location: Springfield
Project Manager: Fred Rose
Partners: Boston Urban Asthma Coalition, Massachusetts Breast Cancer Coalition, Jamaica Plain Asthma Environmental Initiative, Alliance for a Healthy Tomorrow. Overview

PVP, an interfaith, interracial coalition of 23 congregations and labor unions, is working to integrate toxics use reduction into its ongoing work to redevelop abandoned houses into affordable housing in Springfield. The redevelopment is targeted for 130 empty lots and 80 abandoned houses in the Springfield Old Hill and Six Corners neighborhood. During the TURN 2003 cycle, PVP researched toxics in building materials, analyzed the efficacy and availability of less toxic alternatives, and developed educational workshops for the community and developers in Spanish and English. Building materials of particular concern are formaldehyde in insulation, plywood and particleboard; VOCs in glues, paints and finishes, and an array of toxics in carpets. The long-term goals are to build 4-6 demonstration houses and to work with Springfield officials and nonprofit developers to adopt policies for incorporating green building materials into construction and renovation of all affordable homes.

After the first year of education and outreach by PVP, the city planning department and the local housing developers expressed preliminary interest in developing a small number of demonstration houses to showcase green affordable healthy homes. As part of their 2004 TURN Grant, PVP will focus on developing a demonstration affordable house to showcase the feasibility and availability of materials that achieve healthier indoor air quality. PVP will develop model green building specifications and identify a site, contractors, sponsors and donations to build a demonstration house. PVP will conduct educational workshops to funders and decision-makers such as the Springfield Planning Department so they can explore policies and methods to incorporate green building practices throughout affordable housing and other construction projects.

Project Accomplishments

Research and Presentation Preparation: Initial research on less toxic building materials was conducted by project consultant Lynn Rose. The information is compiled into two power point presentations, one for community members and one for contractors. The community presentation is designed for people without a background in construction to understand what health issues they need to be aware of related to building materials as renters or homeowners. The contractor presentation is more technical and specific about products and development issues. Both presentations give an overview of toxicology, toxics use reduction, health issues, chemicals of concern in building materials, and alternative products.

Community Presentation: The community presentation on June 7, 2003 was widely publicized to inform the wider community about health issues related to buildings. Outreach included distribution to 600 people from PVP member churches and unions at our annual action assembly, posters in the neighborhood, outreach to the 3 neighborhood asthma clinics, contacts through the local asthma coalition, and circulation statewide through the Alliance for a Healthy Tomorrow.

Participants in the workshop voiced concern about health issues in their homes due to rugs, paint and other materials. Several participants did some building and handiwork themselves, and they clearly gained a new awareness of the need for personal safety as well as making educating choices about the materials they use. Their new awareness about hazardous building materials helped them take necessary steps to project themselves. Participants also passed on information to people who approached PVP for additional help.

Contractor Presentation: The contractor presentation was by invitation and included the Springfield Environmental Planner and construction managers from the non-profit housing developers working with PVP. Based on this presentation, the city planning department agreed to work with the Healthy Homes initiative as their resources allow. The contractors gained new awareness of the toxins in building materials and of the availability of alternatives.

Healthy Homes Checklists summarize the most significant health issues and toxics use reduction options. For contractors, there are two lists:

  1. The Affordable Materials Checklist of Less Toxic Buildings - this includes the most significant material changes that do not cost more than 10% above the commonly used products in use by most builders.
  2. Healthy-Homes Demonstration Goals - identifies the most important material changes that cost over 10% above currently used products for a demonstration house.

Developer Implementation: The Hampden Hampshire Housing Partnership and Springfield Neighborhood Housing Services are two developers of affordable housing who agreed to incorporate the affordable less toxic building list in their building specifications on future building projects, resulting in immediate toxics use reduction and healthier homes construction.

Healthy Homes Information Packets and Statewide Outreach: Detailed information about hazardous materials, alternatives and cost considerations were provided to the developers, Habitat for Humanity, the Springfield Planning Department, local contractors and architects who assisted with the project, and the Alliance for a Healthy Tomorrow.

PVP organized a follow-up information and strategy meeting with their Boston-based partners, the Boston Asthma Coalition and the Asthma Regional Council, to coordinate a statewide healthy affordable homes initiative. In Boston these groups are working to implement healthy building standards that have not incorporated many TUR standards. We want to explore combining our efforts to develop a common and inclusive standard that we can advocate for statewide.

Project Barriers

  • Material Selection - As PVP began researching green building information, we found a huge amount of information that needed to by synthesized and distilled for easy access for contractors and community members. Very little information was geared to affordable housing where cost and low market values are key factors. Many of the existing green building initiatives do not address toxics, but rather focus on energy usage, lead and asbestos mitigation, and moisture and mold control. Often the focus on single products does not consider the cumulative exposure that one would get from all sources in a home.
  • Higher Costs and Availability of Alternatives - While exotic alternative products are available in many instances, affordable housing developers need products that are reasonably priced, readily available and that their contractors will use. The amount that affordable housing developers can spend on a project is limited by the caps imposed by state and federal funding sources and by the resale value of houses targeted to low-income buyers. To address these issues we identified a hierarchy of options for the most toxic materials, compared prices, health effects and availability for different alternatives. We avoided exotic products and concentrated on minimizing the toxic load in homes.
  • Numerous technical issues - In order to distill a number of complicated issues, we created guiding principles presented on short checklists. We separated affordable from high cost changes and focused on implementing the affordable changes immediately.
  • Housing Organizing Challenges - Affordable housing developers are having a difficult time accessing properties to redevelop because speculation in the housing market is driving up prices. PVP is working to address this problem within the city’s master planning process. Additionally, budget cuts have cost 300 jobs in the city government, including most of the staff in the building and health departments who would be involved in developing building standards. The focus is therefore on working with the non-profit developers and contractors.
  • Funding Additional Costs of Greener Materials - One further barrier that is critical to affordable healthy homes is funding. PVP suggests bringing together environmental, health and affordable housing agencies to identify supplemental money targeted to creating healthy environments as part of the development of affordable housing.


The most important evaluation of this project has been the positive response to the presentations and information provided to the community and housing developers. Their evaluations were given verbally at the end of the presentations. Community members stated that the information was very helpful, well presented and useful in their own lives. The city environmental planner was very glad to find community support for an initiative that she personally would like to see implemented. The housing developers were particularly appreciative of the practical and specific information provided - it made it possible for them to seriously consider how these ideas could be implemented. They stated concern about costs and the limitations within which they work, but had a real interest in making their houses as healthy as possible.

This page updated Friday March 09 2012
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