Home ecology and challenges in the design of healthy home environments : possibilities for low-income home repair as a leverage point for environmental justice in gentrifying urban environments

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2015-08

Authors

Walsh, Elizabeth Anne

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Abstract

Home environments pose a number of challenges for environmental justice. Healthy homes in healthy neighborhoods are often inaccessible due to socioeconomic factors, environmental racism, and/or environmental gentrification. Publicly funded home repair programs increasingly strive to both improve environmental health conditions and to reduce energy bills for low-income homeowners. Such programs have been intended to stimulate reinvestment in neighborhoods experiencing blight and more recently to reduce gentrification pressure in neighborhoods experiencing rapid reinvestment. While such programs do not represent a silver-bullet solution to the accessibility of healthy housing, the question remains: “What is the potential of low-income home repair programs to serve as a leverage point for environmental justice in urban home environments facing gentrification pressure?” This question is investigated through performance evaluation case studies of three municipally funded, low-income home repair programs in Austin, Texas intended to ameliorate gentrification and advance outcomes related to environmental justice. The findings suggest that as a site of intervention, dialogue, community connection, and resource-mobilization, home repair programs have potential as leverage points in regenerative community development that advances environmental justice performance outcomes. Actors in home environments can increase their performance with the support of the home ecology paradigm (HEP), a synthetic research paradigm that draws from sustainability science, environmental justice, and social learning literature to renew an action research paradigm established by Ellen Swallow Richards in the late 1800s to advance healthy community design and development. Guided by a vision of environmental justice, equipped with tools supporting holistic, multi-scalar systems-thinking and regenerative dialogue assessments, and engaged in a practice of resilient leadership, such actors can more deftly dance with the co-evolving systems of their home environments. In so doing, they increase their potential to directly enhance the material, social, and ecological conditions of life in the present, while also cultivating the capacity of these living systems to adapt resiliently to future disruptions. Furthermore, beyond producing life-enhancing performance outcomes, the HEP also appears to support actors in an engaged praxis that enhances their moment-by-moment experience of life and the vitality of living systems in the present.

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