WASHINGTON — Two federal reports released this month blast the Department of Housing and Urban Development for failing to have procedures to adequately protect children in subsidized housing against lead paint exposure.
The reports, from the Government Accountability Office and HUD's Office of Inspector General, paint a portrait of an agency without a clear set of policies for local authorities to follow when reporting cases of children with elevated blood lead levels in public housing units and properties occupied by voucher holders.
They also say HUD also lacks an adequate system of communication with the thousands of housing authorities it's tasked with overseeing, with reports on such matters often incomplete or missing entirely. HUD has no uniform way of keeping track of the cases or ensuring that housing authorities are completing required inspections and fixing hazardous conditions, according to the audits.
"HUD lacked assurance that public housing agencies properly identified and mitigated lead hazards, thus increasing the potential for exposing children to lead poisoning due to unsafe living conditions," the inspector general's office said.
On Friday, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed changes to standards for lead-contaminated dust on floors and window sills, aimed at reducing exposure among children.
The agency said the standards apply to most housing built before 1978 and "child-occupied facilities, such as day care centers and kindergarten facilities."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says "no safe blood lead level in children has been identified."
The audit also found that instead of reporting cases of possible lead exposure to HUD headquarters, housing agencies sent reports to local offices. Of the 45 field offices, 24 of them don't have established policies in place for handling such cases.
The inspector general also criticized HUD for not requiring public housing agencies to report and mitigate lead paint cases in public housing built after 1977, effectively failing "to determine the risk of lead paint exposure to children" living in those buildings.
"These weaknesses," the audit said, "occurred because HUD lacked adequate policies, proceudres and controls for monitoring public housing agencies for compliance with its lead requirements."
In its response to the audit, HUD noted that the agency revised its rule for handling lead paint cases in 2017, when it adopted a lower threshold for lead levels in children's blood that would trigger action. But the agency pledged to review its processes and "follow up on all past incidences identified in the OIG's audit, obtain missing documentation, and ensure that any remaining lead hazards are controlled."
The GAO report to Congress also criticized HUD for lacking a detailed or streamlined procedure to evaluate whether housing authorities are in compliance with lead paint regulations and enforcement. It also blasted HUD for taking only limited steps to evaluate its own lead reduction efforts; the agency hasn't released an annual report on its efforts since 1997.