Housing conditions in Kenya can and should support good health. But more often than not, people keep asking what really makes a healthy home environment? Below are 9 principles that provide a framework for describing the critical components of a healthy home that every landlord or property owner in Kenya must be guided by in order to provide safe houses to their tenants. Healthy homes therefore must be:
1. Dry: Damp houses provide a nurturing environment for mites, molds roaches and rodents all of which are associated with asthma.
2. Clean: Clean houses goes a long way to help reduce pest infestations and exposure to contaminants.
3. Pest-Free: Recent studies show a causal relationship between exposure to mice and cockroaches and asthma episodes in children; yet inappropriate treatment for pest infestations can exacerbate health problems, since pesticide residues in homes pose risks for neurological damage and cancer.
4. Ventilated: Studies show that increasing the fresh air supply in a home improves respiratory health. In Kenya, the Building Code requires the building ventilation be either through natural ventilation or mechanized which is also called enhanced ventilation.
5. Safe: The majority of injuries among children occur at home. Falls are the most frequent cause of residential injuries to children, followed by injuries from objects in the home, burns, and poisonings.
6. Contaminant-Free: Exposure to chemicals such as lead, radon, pesticides, volatile organic compounds, PFAS, and environmental tobacco smoke. Exposures to asbestos particles, radon gas, carbon monoxide, and secondhand tobacco smoke are far higher indoors than outside. Landlord, property managers or his appointed letting agent are discouraged to use lead-based paints in their houses to avoid the deadly exposure to their tenants.
7. Maintained: Poorly maintained residential buildings are at risk for moisture and pest problems. Deteriorated lead-based paint in old residential buildings is the primary cause of lead poisoning, which affects some thousands of kids each year in Kenya.
8. Accessible: It is uncontested that modifications are often necessary (more so in Nairobi and other major towns in Kenya) in order for the tenants to move safely in their homes. Lack of accessibility in and outside the house or a rented building can result in reduced physical activity, trips, falls, isolation from family and friends, and poor mental health. New houses and buildings should be designed for the accessibility of all possible tenants or occupants, regardless of their age or mobility.
9. Affordable: Households in which more than 30% of the income in spent on rent are considered to be cost burdened; if they spend more than 50% of their income on paying rent, they are considered severely cost burdened. High housing cost burden can lead to housing instability in the forms of difficulty paying rents or mortgages, evictions or foreclosures, frequent moves from one building to the other, overcrowding, living with relatives or friends, and homelessness. The high cost of housing can drive families into renting substandard houses, often in unsafe neighborhoods leading to damaged credit, job loss, lack of nutritious food and adequate healthcare, and to a large extent poor mental health.