Asthma hospitalizations are five times higher in the Bronx than anywhere else in the country, but a new program hopes to attack the pervasive problem at the source. NY1's Erin Billups filed the following report.

Josie Rodriguez developed asthma after moving into her Bronx building 22 years ago.

"Every winter I'm out sick because they have to treat me for, with upper respiratory issues," says Rodriguez.

She points to ongoing structural issues with her apartment. There's mold all over and holes where rats crawl through - both asthma triggers.

She says the quick plaster and paint jobs by her landlord are not enough.

"I fight and I fight and I fight, and it seems like it doesn't get to the source of the problem, and you get tired of telling the landlords, you know, I need your help, help me. I want a clean environment," says Rodriguez.

Making such repairs is the focus of the newly launched Bronx Healthy Building Challenge led by Montefiore Hospital, the city Health Department and the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition.

"We can treat asthma, we can prescribe the correct medications. However, some of these structural damages, they cannot do on their own," says Dr. Marina Reznik, Associate Professor of Pediatrics at the Children's Hospital at Montefiore.

The goal is to attack the asthma epidemic in the Bronx at its root.

"We'll look at the ED visits and hospitalizations, and where these patients live. So this will help us identify the buildings that we need to target," says Dr. Reznik.

The program then plans to bring tenants and landlords together to agree on what repairs should be made.

"I think for too long, tenants and outside organizations have been speaking for tenants. This is a program will benefit tenants, in terms of developing leadership, and making sure that tenants have a voice," says Karen Washington, a community organizer with The Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition.

The program received a $250,000 grant through the national BUILD Health Challenge, funded by a five charitable health organizations. The money will pay for repairs or loans so landlords can hire local workers to make the improvements.

"They can save on energy, that's number one. Also, they can decrease the amount of tenant vacancy. So it can be a win-win situation for the landlord," notes Washington.