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Infrastructure and Mortgages: What about the Kids?


During the 2016 election season, Donald Trump (the Republican presidential nominee, now president) proposed spending $1 trillion dollars on infrastructure to put people to work and rebuild the sinews of the nation. Democrats have also called for infrastructure improvements. Those improvements must include making our homes and schools safe for our children. In its recent (January 2) editorial, "Housing that Ruins Your Finances and Your Health," The New York Times wrote, “One solution would be for Fannie Mae to eliminate dangerous lead conditions in foreclosed homes.” But lead requirements are antiquated or nonexistent not only at Fannie Mae but also at Freddie Mac and HUD’s FHA single-family mortgage insurance program. These federal housing programs are the only ones that were not reformed back in 1999 and are long overdue to be fixed.

In years past, both parties worked together to reduce childhood lead poisoning. But Flint is only the tip of the iceberg, and parents of lead-poisoned children are demanding that we do more to put a stop to the needless suffering. Lead poisoning costs us an estimated $50 billion annually for healthcare, substandard school performance, and lost work productivity (2008 dollars).1 The real tragedy is that we know how to fix lead hazards. The disasters in Flint and elsewhere could have been prevented and will now cost much more than if we had made the necessary upfront investments and reforms. The inadequate lead requirements at FHA, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac should comply with HUD lead-safe housing regulations, but they currently do not.

Traditionally, infrastructure spending only goes for roads and bridges and the basic equipment and structures that are needed for a country to function properly. But many are surprised to learn that the lead services lines bringing water into their homes are NOT part of the “infrastructure” and that the burden was on families to replace them. They are also surprised that home inspections required by mortgage companies do not include lead inspections. 

We think infrastructure and federally guaranteed mortgages should be used to make our homes safe for our children. Indeed, we have “shared” our homes with guests and friends and, of course, our families. But 37 million homes built before 1978 have lead paint,2 and at least six million homes have lead water service lines. This “shared” lead has poisoned millions of our children, sometimes poisoning one child after another as one family leaves and another moves in. Existing FHA, Fannie, and Freddie underwriting standards are part of the problem, but they could be part of the solution.

The biggest culprit is old single-pane painted windows, which have the highest lead paint and lead dust levels of any building component. Replacing windows is already a proven strategy. In a pilot program, Illinois replaced lead-contaminated windows in Peoria and Chicago in 500 homes,3 resulting in huge and sustained lead dust reductions not only on windows but also on floors; and many other studies have reached similar conclusions.

The time has come to replace all those old contaminated windows, those lead drinking water pipes, and the other lead hazards in our homes. Enormous benefits follow if infrastructure funds are used to address lead in homes:
  • First, over 75,000 jobs – good-paying jobs for both made-in-America window manufacturing and installation workers;
  • Second, increased property values anywhere from $5,900 to $14,300 per home4
  • Third, a return on investment of at least $17 per dollar spent on lead remediation or removal5
  • Fourth, up to $500 per household saved each year on reduced fuel bills, because new windows are more energy efficient.6 
With the right infrastructure improvements, we can all share safe drinking water and lead-safe homes. 

The evidence is clear – whether in small towns or big cities, rural or urban: We all win when we eliminate lead hazards and protect our children. Our traditional approach has been to respond only after a child is poisoned, but there is no reason to wait until the damage has already been done. We should test our homes and schools, not just our children’s blood. And we should insist that housing finance institutions like FHA, Fannie, and Freddie do the right thing and eliminate those hazards before children are poisoned.

As part of our new national infrastructure initiative, let’s include solving the lead problem. We urge the new president and Congress to protect our children. Let’s not wait for another Flint or another poisoned child. Get Fannie, Freddie, and FHA to do the right thing. Get rid of those old lead-contaminated windows and old lead pipes and put our people back to work to protect our children and our future.

_______________

1 Tresande, L., & Liu, Y. (2011, May). Reducing the staggering costs of environmental disease in children. Health Affairs 30(5), 863. Retrieved February 21, 2017,
from http://content.healthaffairs.org/content/30/5/863.long
2 Cox, D. C., Dewalt, G., O'Haver, R., Salatino, B. (2011, April). American healthy homes survey: Lead and arsenic findings. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Retrieved February 21, 2017, from  https://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/documents/huddoc?id=AHHS_Report.pdf
3 Jacobs, D. E., Tobin, M.,Targos, L., Clarkson, D., Dixon, S. L. Breysse, J., et al. (2016, September-October). Replacing windows reduces childhood lead exposure: Results from a state-funded program. Journal of Public Health Management & Practice, 22(5), 482-491. Retrieved February 21, 2017, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26910871
4 Nevin, R., Jacobs, D. E., Berg, M., & Cohen, J. (2008, March). Monetary benefits of preventing childhood lead poisoning with lead-safe window replacement, Environmental Research, 106(3), 410-419. Retrieved February 21, 2017, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17961540
5 Gould, E. (2009, July). Childhood lead poisoning: Conservative estimates of the social and economic benefits of lead hazard control. Environmental Health Perspectives, 117(7), 1162-1167. Retrieved February 21, 2017, from https://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/wp-content/uploads/117/7/ehp.0800408.pdf
6 Nevin, R., Jacobs, D. E., Berg, M., & Cohen, J. (2008, March). Monetary benefits of preventing childhood lead poisoning with lead-safe window replacement, Environmental Research, 106(3), 410-419. Retrieved February 21, 2017, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17961540



 
Dr. David Jacobs, former Director of the Lead Poisoning Prevention Program at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, is the Chief Scientist for the National Center for Healthy Housing and an adjunct professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health

Anita Weinberg is the Clinical Professor and Director of the ChildLaw Policy Institute at Loyola University Chicago School of Law.

Taking Action: HUD's Lead Poisoning Prevention Announcement – June 13, 2016

Today, Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Julián Castro issued welcome news about lead poisoning prevention, continuing the department’s leading role. He announced a series of HUD lead poisoning prevention initiatives as part of a "Lead-Safe Housing, Lead-Free Kids" toolkit. His goal that every child in this great nation must be safe from lead poisoning is exactly the right one. His announcement of additional funding to help local jurisdictions create lead-safe homes is also welcome news; those funds will enable thousands of children to live in lead-safe homes for decades to come

The announced initiatives track closely with many of the goals of the "Find It, Fix it, Fund It Lead Elimination Action Drive" (#findfixfund) launched last month by the National Center for Healthy Housing (NCHH) and the National Safe and Healthy Housing Coalition (Coalition). Indeed, Secretary Castro's announced toolkit addresses:

  • Finding lead hazards: improving lead paint hazard assessments and identifying water hazards in HUD-assisted housing, as well as identifying hazards in private-sector housing;
  • Fixing: updating standards to match recent science and better protect children; developing mechanisms and guidance to address lead hazards in public and assisted housing more quickly and effectively; and providing millions of dollars in grants for lead-hazard control in privately owned low-income housing, where the risks are greatest;
  • Funding: calling on philanthropic partners to join the effort to eliminate lead poisoning.
The announced initiatives include urgently needed actions, such as anticipated regulatory changes to HUD's Lead-Safe Housing Rule, to align the blood lead level requiring response in assisted housing to the CDC reference level, lowering it to 5 μg/dL (micrograms per deciliter). These rule changes are currently being reviewed by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and we call for quick release to ensure children are protected. In the meantime, we urge local housing and health agencies to adopt the CDC level; nothing in the current regulation prevents local authorities from taking such action.

Secretary Castro also announced efforts to carry out more validated lead risk assessments in federally assisted housing. We hope that the initiatives announced will result quickly in lead risk assessments being required in all federally assisted housing including pre-1978 Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program homes in which children under six reside or are expected to reside. Currently, only visual assessments are required in the voucher units, which cannot measure the presence of lead dust hazards. We urge Congress to provide needed direction and funding so that HUD can implement these protections for children.

The toolkit also includes development of a consistent standard for and response to water quality issues. We appreciate this initiative and encourage HUD to carry out testing water for lead, a relatively inexpensive procedure, as part of HUD inspections and assessments and to coordinate this testing with local health and water authorities.

We encourage HUD to build on the critical steps announced today by updating the nation's Healthy Homes Survey, which estimates the number of houses at risk for both lead and other housing-related diseases and injuries. Furthermore, we call for the creation of a plan to identify specific locations of both lead-based paint and lead pipes in all the nation's housing stock, so that we know where the lead hazards are. This would supplement CDC's efforts to provide GIS mapping of elevated blood lead levels called for by the Senate appropriations committee last week in its report language for the health appropriations bill.  

In addition to addressing public housing, Castro's announcement includes efforts to remediate lead hazards in low-income private sector housing where the risks are greatest. He announced $46.5 million in new lead hazard control grants to 15 state and local jurisdictions, with millions more to follow in the coming months.

In a very positive step, the toolkit encourages interagency collaboration with CDC and EPA on lead poisoning prevention. The Coalition and NCHH strongly support this and urge the Administration to convene a cabinet-level interagency task force to develop and implement a plan to eliminate lead poisoning. One us (Jacobs) participated in the prior such presidential task force in 2000, but Congress didn't provide adequate funding to carry out the plan and met the goal of eliminating lead poisoning. The plan and funding numbers need to be updated, and we must commit ourselves as a nation to provide the resources to get the job done. The savings will be enormous‎ – HUD's lead hazard control program is estimated to have a return on investment of at least $17 per dollar spent.

Indeed, both Secretary Castro and I would be the first to acknowledge that the goal of protecting all children from lead poisoning will not be achieved at current funding levels. That is why the NCHH and the Coalition and others have been working with Congress to increase funding. And we have had some success. Committees in Congress have provided for an increase in $50 million for HUD’s lead poisoning prevention efforts in both public and private housing. The Coalition has requested that HUD’s program be increased from $110 million last year to at least $230 million – a funding level drawn from the interagency plan on lead developed 15 years ago. There is simply no excuse to permit this problem to continue for even more decades into the future; we know how to solve it, and we should act on what we know. We need to #findfixfund: Find exactly where the lead hazards are, fix them using both short- and long-term proven methods, and obtain the funding to make it a reality.
 
Finally, the Secretary’s call means that all of us must do more. That means the private sector should contribute to the solution, as should philanthropy. We need real partnerships with housing, medical, public health, financing, community development, environmental, construction, inspection, and other allied professions – and, of course, parents and community groups. All of us can and must redouble our efforts to end this entirely preventable disease.

If you're attending the National Environmental Health Association/HUD conference in San Antonio this week, we encourage you to join our "Find It, Fix It, Fund It" meeting Tuesday, June 14, 2016, at 4:50 p.m. in conference room 11, where we'll work together on a plan to eliminate lead poisoning.

Fund Healthy Housing NOW!

ACT NOW to ensure continued funding for HUD’s Office of Lead Hazard Control and Healthy Homes and CDC’s Healthy Homes and Lead Poisoning Prevention Program!

The home is the most dangerous place for U.S. families. Nearly six million families live in housing rivaling that of developing countries, with broken heating and plumbing, holes in walls and windows, roach and rodent infestation, falling plaster, crumbling foundations, and leaking roofs. Millions more in all 50 states live in housing with serious health and safety hazards including mold, exposed wiring, radon, unvented heaters, toxic chemicals, broken stairs, missing smoke detectors, and other hazards. Home-based interventions to address health hazards improve health and have a large return on investment: Each dollar invested in lead paint hazard control results in a return of $17 to $221, and each dollar invested in asthma home-based interventions that include education and remediation results in a return of $5.30 to $14.00.

That's why it makes both great common sense and great fiscal sense to direct more funding to the critical government programs that invest money in America's future by making homes safer and healthier. Unfortunately, these programs are always in serious danger of debilitating budget cutting.

Please take these simple steps now to ensure healthy homes and lead hazard control and lead /poisoning prevention programs continue!


STEP 1: SIGN your organization on to the attached letter to Congress for HUD and CDC funding.

Click here to sign on to the attached letter. And forward these links to your networks!


STEP 2: CALL your representative in the U.S. House!

1. Call the U.S. Capitol switchboard at 202.224.3121 and ask to be connected to your representative. (If you don't know who your representative is, the switchboard can tell you based on your address.)

2. Ask to speak with the staff person who handles the health or housing issues for the office.

3. When you reach or leave a message for the staffer (or speak to the receptionist if the staffer is not available), tell him or her:

  • "I'm calling to urge Representative [representative's last name] to sign on to the Congresswoman Slaughter sign-on letter in support of healthy homes and lead poisoning prevention funding for HUD and CDC. The sign-on letter deadline is March 19.
  • "I also urge the representative to submit a request to the health appropriations subcommittee to fund CDC’s Healthy Homes and Lead Poisoning Prevention Program at $29 million.
  • "These funds will ensure the protection of over 500,000 lead-poisoned children who need CDC-funded services.
  • "Thank you!"

STEP 3: Call your senators! (Coming soon!)

Only you can help us win this budget battle.

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