Mice, rats and water leaks are among the problems plaguing a rising number of inner-city and suburban homes, 40% of which now have at least one health or safety hazard, says a ranking to be released today of 45 U.S. metropolitan areas.
Harmed by the nation's foreclosure crisis and economic downtown, 35 million metro-area homes pose potential risks -- up from 30 million (35%) in a similar report four years ago, according to the National Center for Healthy Housing, a non-profit research group.
"It's a worrisome trend," says Rebecca Morley, the group's executive director. She notes poor housing conditions have been linked to asthma, lead poisoning and cancer. Morley says the deterioration, however, is hardly surprising, because many foreclosed properties sat vacant for long periods, and people had less money for home maintenance.
The most common problem? Water leaks from the outside, which affected 11% of metro-area homes, followed by signs of mice (10%) interior water leaks (9%) as well as roofing problems, damaged interior walls and foundation problems (each 5%.)
Nationwide, rental properties have more problems than owner-occupied dwellings, and inner-city housing does worse than suburban apartments and homes. A big factor: age. Inner-city rentals are typically older.
The five metro areas that had the least problems -- San Jose; Indianapolis; Anaheim-Santa Ana, Calif.; Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater; and Phoenix -- tend to have newer homes. The three with the least healthy conditions were San Antonio; Birmingham, Ala.; and Memphis.
"The report documents that healthy homes remain elusive for far too many," Nicolas Retsinas, a housing expert at Harvard Business School, said in a statement.
The scorecard is based on 20 health-related housing characteristics in the Census Bureau's American Housing Survey. The list also includes rats, peeling paint, holes in walls and broken toilets. The Census surveys were done between 2004 and 2011.
In December, Morley says, her group will release the National Healthy Housing Standard, which others can adopt as a property maintenance code. She says that Department of Housing and Urban Development properties have codes and are often in better condition than similar non-HUD housing.
© 2013 USA TODAY under contract with YellowBrix. All rights reserved.