GAO Releases Report on Lead Evaluation Methods in Housing Choice Voucher Program

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently assessed lead evaluation methods in the Housing Choice Voucher program and identified key considerations for policymakers for adopting stricter methods. The GAO report identified considerations related to the number and characteristics of voucher housing units and their occupants, costs for lead evaluations based on method used and units included, availability of lead professionals, and observations from selected cities that use lead evaluation methods stricter than visual assessments.

The report found that HUD’s voucher program includes 1.1 million families living in housing units built before 1978—including about 229,0000 children under 6 years old (who are at the greatest risk of lead exposure/poisoning). Housing Choice Voucher programs require only visual assessment for identifying deteriorated paint, with no test of paint or dust. If HUD were to adopt lead evaluations stricter than visual assessments for these units, estimated costs for lead evaluations range from $60 million (for evaluation of units with young children to $880 million (evaluating all Housing Choice Voucher units). This would equate to 3%-41% of the voucher program’s fiscal year 2021 administrative expenses. This cost estimates also depend on the mobility of the voucher households and the frequency of any additional lead evaluations.

GAO’s analysis of EPA and state data estimated that there are nearly 6,000 lead professionals in the United States in 2020. They also found that certain states have a greater number of lead professionals to perform lead evaluations for housing units built before 1978. While they did not find any indication that there may be a shortage of lead professionals, cities/states with a higher number of pre-1978 voucher units and low numbers of lead professionals may face challenges implementing stricter lead evaluation methods.

Representatives of PHAs and local advocacy organizations in the selected cites (Detroit, Michigan; Newark, New Jersey; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Rochester, New York; and Washington, D.C.) provided observations from their implementation of a change in evaluation method for this GAO report. They found that the education of landlords can help clarify new evaluation requirements and encourage landlords to continue to rent to voucher holders. Furthermore, implementing a new method in phases could target areas with the greatest need and help landlords and the industry adapt to the new requirements and the increased demand for lead evaluations. HUD did note that some actions taken by these selected cities could require statutory or regulatory changes were to be applied to the voucher program. 

The report is at:

heir one-pager highlight sheet is at:

More information about Housing Choice Vouchers is on page 4-1 of NLIHC’s 2021 Advocate’s Guide.

More information about Lead Hazard Control and Healthy Homes is on page 6-1 of NLIHC’s 2021 Advocate’s Guide.