Community health

Public housing residents play key role in asthma research

Twelve residents of the Boston Housing Authority graduated in December from an intensive training program in asthma education, research and advocacy. The newly certified community health advocates are already working with 40 families in the Franklin Hill, West Broadway and Washington Beech housing developments to document the health status of children with asthma and to make environmental improvements in their apartments, such as environmentally sound pest control.

The advocates are part of an innovative community-university-city collaborative known as the Healthy Public Housing Initiative (HPHI). The HPHI partners include the Tenant Task Forces at West Broadway and Franklin Hill, the Committee for Boston Public Housing, the Boston Housing Authority, the Boston Public Health Commission, the schools of public health at Boston and Harvard universities and Tufts University School of Medicine.

"No one that we are aware of has trained public housing residents to play a significant role in a serious health study before," said Doug Brugge, assistant professor of family medicine and community health at Tufts.

This multi-partner project is different because the community health advocates are the field researchers and have the critical role of linking members of community organizations, city agencies and universities with public housing residents. The project aims to demonstrate to children with asthma the health benefits of environmentally sound pest control and to document lessons learned for replication in public housing communities across the country.

Following four years of pilot studies and planning, the Healthy Public Housing Initiative began formally in 2001 with funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Boston Foundation, the Jessie B. Cox Charitable Trust, and, recently, the Kellogg Foundation.