Healthy Housing and the Value of Peer-to-Peer Engagement – Lessons Learned from Rochester, NY

February 26, 2020 - (4 min read)

We are often asked by colleagues and peers from around the country about Rochester’s success in addressing unhealthy housing environments in rental homes. We are proud of the fact that we have reduced rates of elevated blood lead levels (EBLL) in children, which are down by 85% since the adoption of the city’s lead ordinance in 2005 and by 98% since 1994. This policy change was not achieved overnight. Through the work of the Rochester Coalition to Prevent Lead Poisoning, leadership by local officials, and the work of many partners over time, we were able to enhance our Proactive Rental Inspection system with an innovative approach to addressing lead hazards.

When the Coalition to Prevent Lead Poisoning formed back in 2000, the few cities that had local lead laws were so different from Rochester that we had to develop a new model. Because there were so many unknowns, it took a lot of community support, expert input, and a huge leap of faith to pass the law.

Now, we are often sought out by leaders in other cities seeking to adopt local lead policies and we have had many opportunities to share our experiences.  Other cities can use Rochester as an example and source of data to show that this kind of system can work, reducing the ‘unknowns’ and making it easier to develop support for their own efforts. It is our hope that as more cities develop and share their own innovative approaches to reducing housing hazards, their accumulated experience, data, and models will reduce the barriers to adopting new policies in other places.

At the same time, one of our key lessons learned is that there is no one-size-fits-all model for preventing lead poisoning and addressing other hazards like asthma triggers in homes. In each city, there are considerations that require a tailored approach to be successful. We know that there is no substitute for collaboration between local stakeholders to identify these factors and develop appropriate solutions. But we also know that communication between cities can inform development, promotion, and support for new local efforts.

As we have worked with a range of cities and partners on addressing healthy housing challenges, we have increasingly recognized the need for peer-to-peer collaboration. To further this effort, in addition to our ongoing consultations with our peers, we also look forward to providing our expertise and insights as part of a new Healthy Housing Learning Lab, a platform hosted by the National League of Cities. The purpose of this network is to support the ability of cities to engage with their peers who are also working on reducing indoor environmental hazards.

We know that each city’s challenges and opportunities are unique, yet there are also commonalities. The Rochester Coalition to Prevent Lead Poisoning deployed a range of assets to inform key decision-makers and stakeholders, created multi-sector collaborative structures that included the voice of affected communities, and strategized to strengthen political will, leveraged the commitment of our Mayor to create a comprehensive lead policy. The particulars of this collaborative effort were unique, but the overall approach is universal: engaging city leaders, staff, and partners based on their particular goals, interests, and resources.

Ultimately, it is only by working with each other as peers that we will create momentum across small, mid-size and large cities to support the adoption of healthy housing policies, programs, and practices.  We urge you not only to seek out each others’ advice and support but also to join your peers in a dynamic learning lab to address common challenges and ensure healthy and safe housing in your community.

To learn more about Rochester’s effort, read more from the perspective of Mayor Lovely Warren about the value of city leadership.

Gain an ally in your healthy housing efforts by recruiting your mayor or city manager to take the Mayor’s Action Challenge to address healthy housing.

About the Authors:

Gary Kirkmire
is the Commissioner of Neighborhood and Business Development at the City of Rochester.

Katrina Smith Korfmacher, Ph.D, is an Associate Professor of Environmental Medicine at the University of Rochester. She has been a member of the Coalition to Prevent Lead Poisoning since 2001.

For more information on these and other healthy housing opportunities, including the possibility of attending future Housing, Hazards and Health Municipal convenings, contact Anthony Santiago at or 202-626-3022 and Anne Li at or 202-871-9254.