Lead in Federally-Assisted Housing Endangers Vulnerable Families across the Country

Congress must act now to allow HUD to protect families receiving housing assistance


Erin Fitzgerald, efitzgerald@earthjustice.org

Deidre Swesnik, dswesnik@nhlp.org

In June, the Biden administration, including the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), announced that they would make $500 million available to remediate lead-based paint hazards across the country. This is an incredibly important investment toward mitigating the impacts of lead exposure in the United States. However, not all federally-assisted housing programs are required to identify lead hazards; and without such a mandate, these dollars won’t reach families living in Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) program units. Congress must pass the Lead-Safe Housing for Kids Act in order to ensure the Administration’s investment protects all families.

There is no safe level of lead exposure. Although lead-based paint was banned in 1978, the most common way that children are exposed to lead is still through lead dust in their homes and schools. In 2016, HUD estimated that 340,000 units receiving tenant-based and project-based assistance are occupied by children under age 6 and were built before 1978. Of those, 43,000 units have uncontrolled lead hazards and place children at elevated risk of lead poisoning. Today, approximately 90,416 children in the HCV program have lead poisoning.

To ensure that these and future funds for lead paint remediation are distributed equitably, Congress must create a statutory requirement for HUD to inspect HCV housing for lead hazards. HUD has made clear that Congress must pass the Lead Safe Housing for Kids Act, spearheaded by Representative McEachin in the House and Senator Durbin in the Senate. The bills would allow HUD to identify lead hazards in HCV units before families with children under the age of 6 move in. 

“There is no reason that children and families living in federally assisted housing should continue to suffer from the life-altering impacts of lead poisoning,” said Nathan Park, associate legislative representative for Healthy Communities at Earthjustice. “Congress must act to protect the health and futures of these families by mandating identification and remediation of any lead hazards.”

“It is unconscionable that children in 2022 are still suffering from lead paint exposure in federally assisted homes. Our current inspection standards require children to demonstrate exposure to lead poisoning before HUD will inspect the property, and landlords are required to take action to remediate,” said Shamus Roller, executive director at National Housing Law Project (NHLP). “The Lead Safe Housing for Kids Act will not only mandate sufficient inspection protocols, it will provide the funds to remediate the hazard in demonstration communities. NHLP celebrates this incredible legislation that will keep children safe at home and secure brighter futures for those who live in federally assisted programs.”

Earthjustice and NHLP are committed to working with our partners and HUD to ensure that the Biden administration fulfills its Justice 40 commitment by prioritizing distribution of the funds to disadvantaged and overburdened communities. Read more about the compounding environmental and health crises in federally subsidized housing in our Poisonous Homes report. In addition to funding the remediation of lead-based paint hazards, it is critically important that HUD work with EPA to revise its lead hazard standards, which were found by a federal appellate court to be outdated and counterproductive. The definition of lead-based paint, the benchmark for identifying lead paint in older homes, is  50 times less protective than the standard for lead in paint sold today.

Quotes from our partners:

“A Community Voice – Louisiana supports the Lead Safe Housing for Kids Act, it would have an important impact throughout the country, with long-term effects on children and families. Ultimately saving the government and families the very high but hidden costs of lead poisoning,” said Debra Campbell, chairperson, A Community Voice.

“Every family must have access to safe, stable, and affordable housing which includes, as a basic prerequisite, that no child be exposed to the dangers of lead paint. It is particularly offensive that children are exposed to these dangerous toxins in federally-subsidized properties. It is thus essential that Congress pass The Lead Safe Housing for Kids Act,” said Eric Sirota, director of Housing Justice, Shriver Center on Poverty Law.

“It is past time for HUD to adopt a primary prevention strategy for addressing lead in federally assisted housing. Preventing lead exposure is cheaper than fixing the problem after a child has been poisoned. Not only cheaper, but morally imperative,” said Darrick Wade, board of directors, Cleveland Lead Advocates for Safe Housing.

“As we continue to address remediation of lead-based paint let us also be aware that Lead Safe Housing includes making sure we have safe drinking water. Too many of our homes use water coming through leaded water service lines. UPAL (United Parents Against Lead & Other Environmental Hazards) supports full lead service line replacements as we support remediation of homes containing lead-based paint. To protect our children and families we must remove all routes of lead exposure,” said Queen Zakia Shabazz, founder, United Parents Against Lead & Other Environmental Hazards.

“A quality affordable home is a prescription for good health, but too often, children living in federally assisted homes are put at risk of exposure to lead, which can result in serious, negative long-term impacts on health and well-being, and can even lead to death. These harmful health consequences fall disproportionately on the lowest-income and most marginalized households, exacerbating health disparities for Black, Indigenous, and other people of color,” stated Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. “Congress must do more to protect families and children by enacting the Lead-Safe Housing for Kids Act and other investments to create healthy homes for households with the greatest needs.”

Additional Resources

About Earthjustice

Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit environmental law organization. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people's health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. We are here because the earth needs a good lawyer.