Tips for Starting a Healthy Homes Program

By Ryan Ward

NASCSP’s Healthy Homes staff recently completed its first round of six Weatherization Plus Health regional conferences across the country. A key component of these conferences was a “Promising Practices” panel session, which provided audience members with an opportunity to ask presenters about how they got their healthy homes initiatives off the ground. Many presenters motivated attendees to start performing “Healthy Homes” measures on homes by emphasizing that creating the capacity to expand their range of services does not have to be complicated. Below are some key pointers for creating a sustainable, successful
healthy homes program.

1. Don’t reinvent the wheel:
One of the most common mistakes organizations make when trying to incorporate a healthy homes component into their programs is trying to do too much too soon. Organizations have to take a sober look at what is achievable within their means and aim for those goals first. By starting small, you can get buy-in from staff and those responsible for helping implement new program objectives. These small goals could include ramping up client education efforts or coordinating cross-training between partner organizations. Such strategies usually result in extremely efficient ways to provide healthy homes interventions. By creating cost-effective, comprehensive solutions concerning a few small goals, agencies can improve their capacities to take on a bigger workload and, as a result, plant the seed for future grant money.

2. Develop Partnerships:
Relying on the knowledge of partners is the best way to create the capacity needed to more holistically address the needs of low-income families. One organization may not have the expertise in all areas encompassed by healthy homes principles. In order for a healthy homes initiative to work, it’s critical that the right people perform the right tasks. Therefore, it is important to partner with as many organizations as possible, creating an effective referral network that can provide comprehensive support to low-income families. Sharing the workload among partners is essential to maintaining buy-in and excitement for new initiatives.

3. Collect Data:
The most compelling argument for success is proving that you are getting significant bang for your buck. This requires a data collection/tracking system that can measure homes completed and improvements in client health. Many of the presenters said they began tracking data with in-depth questionnaires administered to clients prior to providing services. After agencies serviced homes, they administered a series of follow up calls to track the level of client health improvements over time. This allowed presenters to make the case that they were ably managing scarce resources with measurable success.

4. Start Now!
Some cuts in funding for weatherization and healthy homes grantees are likely for FY 2012. Those programs that can meet the needs of clients comprehensively and with fewer resources will shine the brightest. Since implementing these initiatives takes time for planning, obtaining buy-in from staff and partners, and developing tools to measure the success of new programs, it is best to begin evaluating what can be achieved now and start working toward those goals. Integrating a healthy homes component into State and local weatherization programs will be an effective way for the Weatherization Assistance Program to further prove its adaptability and sophistication. The time to begin is now.