House Committee Holds Hearing on Lead Hazards in Subsidized Housing

The House Financial Services Committee held a hearing on June 26 titled “Oversight of the Federal Government’s Approach to Lead-Based Paint and Mold Remediation in Public and Subsidized Housing.” The hearing focused on the need for improved HUD oversight to remediate lead-based paint and mold hazards and for increased funding for hazard mitigation in public housing.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 4 million children in the U.S. are living in environments with lead-based paint. Jeremy Kirkland, HUD’s acting deputy inspector general, testified that HUD has been negligent in overseeing public housing agencies’ (PHAs’) efforts to identify and mitigate lead-based paint in the public housing and Housing Choice Voucher programs. HUD’s current protocol for mitigating lead-based paint is based on whether a child has symptoms of lead poisoning rather than on preventative measures. Mr. Kirkland also said HUD lacks proper oversight for PHA reporting of lead poisoning. Although HUD established a program in 2001 to require PHAs to conduct and report on inspections to measure lead levels, it was not until 2016 that HUD established a system to track and follow up with PHAs that failed to comply. The inspector general also said HUD staff lacked the expertise needed to review the data collected from these inspections. Karen McKeown of the Wisconsin Department of Health Services noted that lead poisoning disproportionately affects people struggling with poverty and housing insecurity.

Jeffery Patterson of the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority spoke about the lack of funding and resources for public housing, leading to PHAs being unable to afford the expensive remediation process. Emily Benfer, a professor at Yale Law School, said that PHAs have not had sufficient funding for the operation or maintenance of public housing and that there is an estimated backlog of public housing capital needs of $40 billion, which grows at a rate of $3.4 billion per year. She recommended an increase in HUD’s budget for lead-based hazard remediation. Rachel Fee of the New York Housing Conference discussed the positive impacts of affordable housing on health outcomes and health savings. She cited a 2017 study that found that a $2.5 billion investment in eliminating lead hazards in older homes in which children from low income families live would provide $3.5 billion in future benefits to the U.S. economy.

Representative Joyce Beatty (D-OH) spoke about the disproportionate harm health hazards in public housing pose to racial minorities. She also criticized HUD Secretary Ben Carson for claiming that HUD was prioritizing lead remediation in affordable housing while HUD’s FY19 budget request would eliminate funding for the public housing capital fund, which PHAs use to address lead hazards. Representative Emmanuel Cleaver (D-MO) emphasized the need for HUD to do a better job of overseeing PHA’s data on lead and mold hazards.

Watch the archived webcast of the hearing at: