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Another Voice: HUD is focused on reducing exposure to lead

By Holly Leicht

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has declared June National Healthy Homes Month, a time to focus on the steps we can take to ensure that everyone has access to a safe and healthy home. Conditions in our homes, some of them hidden, can have a dramatic impact on our health and well-being. One of the biggest risks is the hazard presented by lead, which can cause lifelong impacts for children exposed to it.

HUD has a long and successful track record of reducing lead hazards. Since 1993, our funding has remediated over 190,000 homes nationwide – and earlier this month we announced an additional $3 million for Erie County.

Yet recent national attention on places threatened by lead poisoning proves there is still much to be done and highlights the need for not just funding, but also comprehensive federal policies on lead.

To meet the challenge of eliminating lead poisoning in children, HUD Secretary Julian Castro announced the Lead Safe Homes, Lead Free Kids Toolkit, a combination of regulatory changes, new guidance and best practices, and proposed legislation that will help coordinate and standardize lead remediation in HUD-assisted housing and beyond.

Chief among the regulatory changes will be a decrease in the level of lead in children’s blood that will trigger required action, aligning it with the threshold set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Other proposed measures include strengthening HUD’s enforcement, providing better education and outreach to families in HUD-assisted housing, universal testing for children in public housing and a consistent standard for water quality.

All of the above can be accomplished without new legislation. With congressional action, HUD could go even further by strengthening the inspection protocol for privately owned units leased to Section 8 voucher holders. Together, these measures will eliminate the risk of lead poisoning for nearly 5.1 million households in HUD-assisted housing across the country. That means nearly 580,000 households in New York State alone.

We know that government investments in lead remediation generate significant returns over time through lower health care usage, less reliance on special education, higher household income and even lower rates of violent crime. But we also know that meaningful change happens only when funding is paired with thoughtful policies and a coordinated response among the public and private sectors.

HUD’s Toolkit will help put the country on the path toward such change by ensuring that all of our children grow up in healthy, safe homes.

Holly Leicht is the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s regional administrator for New York and New Jersey.