Barb Wilkie's EHN Website
Last updated 2008

EHN Board President Barb Wilkie was very ill from chemically-induced kidney disease for several years. She passed away May 31, 2011. EHN presents this site both as a tribute and as valuable information. Many links and references will be out of date but Barb's research holds up over time. We will be transferring the site page by page, with updated details, to EHN's main site. If you would like to reach an EHN staff person, please contact us directly.

Question and Answer
Ecology House

San Rafael, California

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Dear Connie:

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--

No there aren't any other "Ecology Houses" right now. After the "failure" (cough cough) here, people have been scared to try. The few efforts that I know of that have been made to do other kinds of government sponsored safe housing have died on the table, as fragrance industry lobbyists convinced legislators that the "failure" of Ecology House was "proof" that such things couldn't work.

There is currently a long waiting list to get in here -- in fact, it is so long that it has been closed. But it might be open again soon -- people on it are being sent notices asking if they're still interested, and if they don't respond (which unfortunately can often happen with EIs -- since out of necessity we often have to move a lot) their names will be dropped. If enough names are dropped, the list will be reopened.

Currently we are fully "rented up," and no one that I know of has any plans to leave. There could be openings if people die -- which I'm sorry to say is an all too real possibility. Several people here are seriously ill, and not getting much better.

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 one bedroom, fairly small, and aren't really big enough for more two adults -- and truth to tell, even two would be less than comfortable).

In addition, the top spots in the waiting list are reserved for people who have a "Federal Preference." This means those who are a) homeless, b) living in "dilapidated" housing, or c) spending more than 50 percent of their income on housing.

As to how much the rent is, it depends on a person's income. Residents pay 1/3 of their income as rent, unless that would be more than the "fair market" rent for this area, which is currently $521 a month. HUD makes up the difference between the resident's share and "fair market." Most of us pay between $80 and $200.

The building itself has been a problem for many of us -- mostly from the "Imperial" plaster system used on the walls (the plaster used wasn't a pure plaster, and has many problematic additives -- like aromatic naphtha). The enameled metal cabinets, which had a fresh paint odor for the first year or so, have also been a problem. But the building also has many plusses -- 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.

For all the problems we've had -- all the sensationalized tales spread by ABC¼s 20/20 and others -- as well as all the REAL problems with the walls, the cabinets, power lines over the parking lot, pesticide spraying nearby and -- most frustrating of all -- arguments among ourselves about what does or doesn't constitute "fragrance" -- I can still personally testify to the IMMENSE advantages of living here.

This is a place set up with this illness in mind, one where everybody "gets it." That's very empowering in a fundamental sense. A huge percentage of my day-to-day life before I got here was taken up with the ongoing battle to try to act in ways that were self-nurturing and health-promoting -- while surrounded by people and institutions that labeled that behavior crazy and punished me for it. 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 -- applaud my healthy behavior. They act as if it is normal and good, not crazy and deviant -- because it IS normal and good.

I can't tell you what a difference that has made in how I negotiate life -- the amount of emotional and spiritual energy available every day simply because I don't have to use up so much of it constantly defending and justifying myself.

It's not that there aren't still battles. But they're not 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, and where the property manger will take aside social service people who show up scented, sniff them, and ask them come back unscented.

I very much hope that someone somewhere eventually tries to do this again. We've learned a lot about how to avoid the kind problems we had at first. And the benefits -- despite all the problems -- are well worth it, in my humble opinion.

-- Connie



Evaluation and List of Building Materials

House Rules or Fragrance-Free defined for Ecology House

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