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Question and Answer
Ecology House

San Rafael, California

(unofficial personal thoughts from one resident)

If you have questions or comments, please email: cjbarker@ecologyhouse.net

Can you provide general information about Ecology House? For example, are there any others around the country? What's it like?

Well, since you asked--

Unfortunately, no there aren't currently any other "Ecology Houses." After the initial problems here, people got a bit gun shy about low income MCS housing. Some efforts have even died on the table because lobbyists were able to convince legislators that problems here "proved" that such things couldn't work. That truly saddens and infuriates me, since Ecology House, far from being a failure, has been a real blessing to me and many others.

It's true that the building itself has been a problem for many of us -- as would be expected with new construction. The biggest single headache has been the "Imperial" base/veneer plaster system used on the walls (the plaster used isn't a "pure" plaster, has many problematic additives -- like aromatic naphtha -- and it sheds an irritating dust). The enameled metal cabinets, which had a fresh paint odor for the first year or so, also caused problems, as have the high tension lines that run over the parking lot, and spraying in the neighborhood by various groups (adjacent homeowners, the city, etc.).

But the building also has many pluses -- a large "airing" room; whole site water filtration; a laundry room where it is illegal to use fabric softener, bleach and most commercial laundry products; all electric kitchens; hydronic (non-gas) heating; and no carpeting. In addition, house rules make it illegal for ANYONE, including management, to use fragranced products, paint, pesticides, or toxic cleaning products (like bleach and ammonia) anywhere on site, or to burn anything, period.

Despite all the sensationalized tales spread by ABC and others, and all the real problems with the walls, the cabinets, power lines over the parking lot, pesticide spraying nearby and -- most disheartening of all -- arguments between residents about what does or doesn't constitute "fragrance" -- there are still personally immense advantages to living in a place like this.

This is a place set up with this illness in mind, one where everybody "gets it." That's very empowering. A huge percentage of my day-to-day life before I got here was taken up with ongoing battles to try to act in ways that were self-nurturing and health-promoting -- while surrounded by people and institutions that labeled those behaviors almost crazy. Now the major institution I deal with -- my landlord -- and the people who are most in a position to negatively impact my health -- my neighbors -- understand and approve those formerly "problematic" behaviors. They "get" that avoiding exposures is necessary and healthful, not self destructive, not deviant. I can't tell you what a difference that has made in the amount of emotional and spiritual energy I have available every day -- simply because I don't have to use so much of it up defending and justifying myself.

It's not that there aren't still battles. But they're not (mostly) with the people that I'm living with or next door to, and I have a relatively safe place to come home into -- a place where the landlord won't spray if we have roaches, where the neighbors don't barbecue, or reach for Drano when the sink backs up, or take up oil painting or furniture finishing as hobbies; a place where the property manger takes aside social service people who show up scented, sniffs them, and asks them to leave if there's a problem (and to come back unscented).

There is currently a long waiting list to get in here -- in fact, it is so long that it's been closed. (It may open again soon, if people on it don't respond to
notices they're being sent (which unfortunately can often happen with EI -- out of necessity we frequently have to move a lot). If enough names are dropped, the list will reopen).

But our current turnover has been only about one person per year, and there are only 11 units, so even once on the waiting list the chances of getting in are not too good.

In order to be eligible for the waiting list you have to:

1) be certified by an MD as being disabled with MCS; and

2) be "low income" for this area, which currently means under $22,250 a year for a single person, or under $25,750 for a couple or $29,000 for a family of three. (The units are fairly small -- 540 sq ft --
one bedroom, not big enough for more than two adults -- and really, even two would be cramped).

As to how much the rent is, it depends on a person's income. Residents pay 1/3 of their income as rent. HUD makes up the difference between the resident's share and "fair market." Most of us pay between $80 and $200.

I very much hope that others will take this to heart and try to build more "Ecology Houses." We've learned a lot and can help people avoid the kind of problems that came up at the beginning here. Those problems DON'T have to be repeated!!!

The benefits are well worth it - and the need continues to be pressing.

-Connie (ecology house resident)

For more information about Ecology House, please write eh@ecologyhouse.net
Last updated 8/16/99