Affordable Housing Cooperative Transforming the Material Industry

Roberto Valle Kinloch | April 2022 | Newsletter


Overwhelming evidence suggests our health and well-being are significantly impacted by the conditions in the environment where we are born, live, learn, work, and play, with some suggesting that our zip codes are better predictors of health than our genetic code. Also referred to as social determinants of health (SDOH), these conditions range from access to and quality of education, transport, and health care services to housing conditions and the toxics and pollutants we are exposed to in the neighborhoods we live in. 

While definitions may vary around what these conditions are and which should be prioritized, there is general consensus that: 

  • These conditions exist because of decision-making processes, policies, structures, and practices designed and implemented by humans;
  • These conditions create inequities in health, disproportionately impacting low-income families, families living with incomes below the federal poverty level, and people of color, and; 
  • Cross-sector collaboration is needed to deliver the highest standards of health for all, with special attention given to the needs of those who are at greatest risk.

In alignment with efforts tackling the root causes of health inequities, HBN entered into a partnership with United Renters for Justice (IX), a nonprofit working to transform the Minneapolis housing system, to reduce tenant exposures to toxic chemicals used in building products. Funded through an Environmental Assistance grant by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), this collaborative project prioritized toxic exposure reduction in areas designated to be of environmental justice (EJ) concern by the MPCA. EJ concern areas include tribal land and census tracts with higher concentrations of low-income residents and people of color – communities that are disproportionately impacted by toxic chemical exposures and other forms of pollution. 

This collaboration provided the unique opportunity to embrace the perspective of tenants in the co-creation of resources to help them make informed decisions about the products used in their housing units and common areas. Specifically, this meant designing resources that would leverage IX’s organization and mobilization skills as well as the structure of a recently established tenant cooperative, “A Sky Without Limits.” Also, it meant increasing information accessibility, for example, through the use of non-technical language and making the resources available in both English and Spanish.

HBN and IX are excited to make these resources available to tenant organizations and any other stakeholders with influence over the products used in housing projects. The resource package “Safer Products Lead to Healthier People” (Productos Más Seguros Conducen a Personas Más Saludables) can be downloaded at no cost from HBN’s HomeFree website via the links below, and includes:

  1. Safer Building Materials Reference Guide: This guide is tailored to building managers and resident organizations that, like IX, have an interest in making informed decisions about the materials used in their housing units. The guide provides information to select healthier flooring, paint, and cleaning materials. Recommendations include product examples and selection criteria to help people find healthier alternatives.
    Download Report (English)
    Descargar Reporte (Español)

  2. Healthier materials fact-sheet for residents: This document is tailored to building residents and aims to generate awareness about hazards in household products and provide recommendations for healthier options. It addresses why using safer products is important, tips that can help the reader find healthier alternatives – for example, looking for cleaning products with an EPA Safer Choice label – and even recommendations as to where to find these products.
    Download Report (English)
    Descargar Reporte (Español)

  3. Healthier materials seminar: This high-level, 10-minute recording can be used to educate the general public (e.g., tenant meetings) about the importance of avoiding toxic products. It begins by breaking down myths and misconceptions around the perceived hazards and safety of natural and synthetic chemicals and discusses how toxic products impact individuals and families, especially children, along the lifecycle of products.
    Watch the Seminar (English)
    Ver el Seminario (Español)

By empowering the people most affected by toxic chemical exposures to advocate for and create change in their living conditions, this project creates avenues for creating a safer environment for all. Anyone who influences product purchasing decisions – including manufacturers, building owners, managers, developers, architects, investors, policy makers, and consumers – has the power and responsibility to reduce health inequities for those using or exposed to those products every day. This includes residents, workers, installers, and the communities that surround the facilities where these materials are processed and disposed of. By making material health a priority in your decision-making processes, you’ll be joining efforts to tackle the root causes of health inequities in communities around the world. Visit and learn how our Product Guidance can help you make better material choices.