Substandard Housing Definition & High Impact Repairs

Posted By: Becca Davis News,

What exactly is considered substandard housing? Appalachia Service Project, one of ReFrame
Association’s founding member organizations, recently set out to define this term. ASP
discovered that there isn’t one definition of substandard housing that is agreed upon by everyone
in the housing industry. Therefore, ASP created their own definition.

A team from ASP created the definition by referencing HUD’s requirements for existing housing
and the U.S. Census American Community Survey definitions. Some obvious things like smoke
detectors were still missing when these two definitions were combined, so they added some
additional components. Because ASP’s motto is “warmer, safer, drier,” the definition is divided
into these three categories. And, because ASP’s goal was to create a list of what a home lifted out
of substandard housing would look like, ASP turned the definition around and defined what an
acceptable home looks like.

An acceptable home is:

• Home has a heat source (HUD 2-5.A.3)
• Home has its own, working electrical service (HUD 2-4.B)
• Home has hot water to sinks and shower/tub (HUD 2-4.A.4)
• Insulation is installed in ceilings, walls, and under floors
• Homes have underpinning or continuous foundations that keep out wind
• Walls have no open cracks (HUD 2-8)
• Windows or doors are not broken nor do they have large gaps around the edges (HUD 2-8)

• A well or municipal system provides safe drinking water (HUD 2-5.A.1)
• A functioning septic system disposes of waste (HUD 2-5.B.2)
• Kitchens have a sink, stove, and refrigerator (Census definition of “complete kitchen”)
• Bathrooms have a toilet, sink, and a tub/shower (Census definition of “plumbing facilities”)
• Streams or hillsides do not pose a danger to the home (HUD 2-13)
• Electrical wiring is not exposed (HUD 2-10)
• Foundations are adequate to support the floor system (HUD 2-8 & 2-13)
• Floors are sound and have not settled to the point they are unsafe to walk on (HUD 2-8)
• Homes have enough bedrooms so that adults, boys, and girls sleep separately (HUD 2-9)
• Homes have smoke detectors and, if there are combustion appliances, CO detectors
• Rodents, termites or other pests do not live in the home (HUD 2-8)
• Stairs and porches have railings and are sound
• A second exit is available for emergency use

• Roofs, fascia, or gutters (when installed) keep water from damaging the home (HUD 2-8 & 2-12)
• Siding keeps water from damaging the home (HUD 2-8)
• Grading and drainage ditches keep water away from the home (HUD 2-15)
• Plumbing does not leak in or under a house (HUD 2-10)
• Gray water is not discharged under a house (HUD 2-5.B.2)
• No materials with water damage are present in the home (HUD 2-8)
• Crawl spaces have venting and an access door (HUD 2-11 & 2-14.A)

This definition can be helpful when considering your goals for each home you plan to repair. For
example, ASP completes emergency repairs on some homes. These repairs are designed to make
the homes warmer, safer and drier. Projects will include the highest impact repairs on the list -
perhaps addressing a roof leak or the lack of running water. ASP doesn’t have the resources to lift
every home they repair out of substandard condition but they desire to restore some homes to the
point that they are considered acceptable - completely warm, safe and dry - by their definition.

If you are planning on investing a substantial amount of time and money into a home you are
repairing, we encourage you to think critically about your goals for the project. Even if you can’t
lift a home completely out of substandard condition, you can make a significant difference in the
occupants’ quality of life. By focusing on high impact repairs, you’ll be a good steward of your
resources and be able to help a lot of families. ASP does this by considering the sustainability of
the project and home. For example, ASP no longer builds freestanding roof systems on mobile
homes because this requires a significant investment of time, money and volunteer labor in a
project that will ultimately outlast the trailer.

Stewardship doesn’t mean just being precise in your material purchases; it also means making
informed decisions about how to allocate your most important and expensive resources as well -
including volunteer labor. If you can’t fix everything in a home, you can complete high impact
repairs to address the emergency needs and then move to another project to help another family
in need.