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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.

Stand Up and Be Counted in the Fight Against Lead Poisoning



Lead poisoning—you know, it seems like we should’ve had this problem licked by now.

Every year, we (NCHH and our partners) get out and stomp the figurative pavement, reminding people—parents, teachers, doctors, members of Congress, the President—that lead is still a very real and dangerous problem. And every year, despite our best efforts, more kids are exposed to lead. This year, we heard of a city (Flint, Michigan) that was exposed to dangerous levels of lead in its water.

All of this despite the fact we’ve known lead was poisonous for over 100 years and despite the fact that lead-based paint was banned in the U.S. back in 1978. That's nearly 40 years ago. The banning of lead-based paint in homes was a major victory, but the war rages on: While no new lead-based paint is being manufactured for residential use here in the United States, lead is still being used in other types of paint. Meanwhile, the lead-based paint that exists in older homes continues to disintegrate into poisonous dust. Lead exposure also comes from aging pipes entering homes and schools, from soil, and in consumer products.

According to Dr. David Jacobs, NCHH's Chief Scientist, "Lead is […] one of the best studied toxic substances that we know of. It’s one of the metals that you don’t need in your body; it has no useful biological value whatsoever. It creates a range of effects [including] neurodevelopmental effects for children at an early age, but it also causes cancer, kidney disease, and many other adverse health effects."

Today, there are still over 500,000 children with elevated blood lead levels in the U.S. Untold numbers of adults—possibly in the millions—struggle daily with the lifelong consequences of their own childhood lead exposure: decreased IQ and cognitive function, developmental delays, and behavioral problems. It’s both unfortunate and unacceptable for any child to be harmed by lead exposure, yet it continues to happen every day, regardless of race, creed, color, or social strata, though children of color and those living in low-income housing have been affected most.

Advocacy groups, philanthropic organizations, and federal, state, and local governments have done much to educate the public about lead hazards—a herculean task. NCHH and its allies in this war on lead poisoning have also made great progress over the last 40-plus years. The studies we and our partners have done, the research we’ve provided, the articles we’ve written, and our advocacy efforts have resulted in a significant reduction in the number of Americans with elevated blood lead levels, as well as medical treatment for those affected. We’re proud of our work, and we’re proud of all the others who’ve joined us in the fight.

Now we need for you to join us as well, and we need you today. NCHH and the National Safe and Healthy Housing Coalition have just created a petition entitled “Tell Congress to End Lead Poisoning Now” that outlines a comprehensive strategy to end lead poisoning within five years.

Take a few minutes to check out the petition. Now we want you to sign it. Yes, YOU. And then we want everyone you know to sign it as well, which means that we need you to share it with people you know and ask them to share it too. Sign it, share it, and change the world—just a little.

Some of you have probably already signed the petition. You read the title and said, “I’m IN!” (Thank you!) Maybe you’re in because someone in your family has been exposed to lead. Maybe there’s lead in your house or apartment right now, and you don’t have the money you need to make your home safe once and for all. Or maybe you know someone down the street, one street over, or someone who goes to school with your kids, who’s been touched in some way by lead poisoning. Maybe you know someone who’s sitting in jail, and you think that maybe his or her life would be completely different right now if only they hadn’t been exposed to lead.

But maybe you haven’t gotten around to signing the petition just yet. We know that some of you are thinking, I don’t know anyone with this problem or This isn’t really a problem for me. But it really is. Whether or not we realize it, we’re all affected by lead poisoning:
  • Because families move into older homes every day.
  • Because children attend older schools every day.
  • Because some kid visits his or her grandparents’ home every day.
  • Because water flows through old pipes every single day.
  • And because lead poisoning can lead to learning disabilities, impulse control issues, and violent behavior, we pay tax money to fund educational services, law enforcement efforts and the judicial system to fix lead-related problems after they’ve happened. 
We want to tell Congress to invest more in the system upfront so that problems don’t happen. It’s a sound investment in our collective future: The return on investment for lead poisoning prevention is estimated at no less than $17 for every $1 spent.

As NCHH’s David Jacobs and Amanda Reddy commented in a recent editorial, lead poisoning is preventable, and we know how to prevent it; but our investment has to be more widespread and sustained.

Help us tell Congress that it is time to end childhood lead poisoning. Won’t you help us to reach our goal of 20,000 signatures? Stand up and be counted: Please sign the petition right away and share it with your friends, associates, and family.

Democrats Add Eliminating Lead Poisoning to Party Platform



On July 9, 2016, history was made: A major U.S. political party added the words "we must make it a national priority to eradicate lead poisoning" to its platform. Never in the history of American politics has a major party called for the elimination of lead poisoning explicitly as a portion of its platform.

That finally changed late Saturday night as the Democratic Platform Committee approved Amendment 176 to add the following language to their platform:

"Democrats believe we must make it a national priority to eradicate lead poisoning which disproportionately impacts low-income children and children of color and can lead to lifelong health and educational challenges, as a public health threat. We will prioritize hiring and training workers from affected communities to clean up toxic brownfields and expand clean energy, energy efficiency, and resilient infrastructure."

As a nonpartisan organization, NCHH hopes that all of the political parties will recognize the importance of this provision and add it to their respective platforms. The health, safety, and well-being of America’s children is important to all Americans.

Kudos to platform committee members Mara Keisling and Mary Kay Henry, President of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), for promoting and offering this amendment. 

Watch a video of the amendment's introduction by Mara Keisling and its subsequent approval here.

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