264 Children’s Legal Rights Journal [Vol. 37:2 2017]
hundreds of thousands of homes where a child is exposed to lead. Furthermore, the Department
of Housing and Urban Development has taken a reactive approach to the problem and wait until
a child is severely ill before acting. In the news, one can find stories of families who have had to
choose between living in a home that could poison their children and living on the streets.
Though the newly implemented bill addresses that concern by lowering the action level to a
reasonable point, it is still a reactive measure. As the CDC is want to point out, there is
absolutely no safe level of lead in a child’s body. Thus, simply reacting to the presence of poison
in a child is too late. The question then becomes, how would HUD implement a proactive
III. THE INTERVIEW
To gain more perspective on the Lead Safe Housing Rule, I consulted with Professor
Benfer and discussed what lead up to filing the petition, the current situation regarding HUD,
and her plans moving forward.
Professor Benfer was working with clients at the Health Justice Project at Loyola
University Chicago’s Beazley Institute for Health Law and Policy when she was inspired to lead
the charge on the petition. The Health Justice Project’s clients had battled unsafe living
conditions for years, specifically, they had serious concerns about their children being poisoned
by lead based paint. Initially, Professor Benfer testified before the Chicago Housing Authority
(CHA), and met with its director, in an effort to change children’s living conditions for the
better. Unfortunately, CHA was unreceptive to her efforts. In response, the Health Justice Project
appealed at the federal level and petitioned HUD to change the lead safe level to CDC standards.
Not only would this impact CHA, and thus achieve the initial goal that the Health Justice Project
had set in place; but it would impact similar housing authorities nationwide.
Professor Benfer noted that HUD has done some great things in the update of the Lead
Safe Housing Rule. Within the bill, HUD has also added a provision to implement building wide
inspections in federally assisted housing. The rule mandates that: if a child, living in federally
assisted housing, has been identified as having a blood/lead level that is higher than the action
level, then not only will that child’s unit be investigated and remedied; but all units in that
complex will be investigated. Furthermore, HUD is currently piloting policy that weighs how to
improve the homes themselves. According to Professor Benfer, HUD has asserted there are a lot
of restrictions that prevent it from implementing certain preventative policies. Therefore, HUD is
experimenting with policies ensure they are abiding by all laws and regulations. This is
heartening news, as Professor Benfer’s ultimate goal in this, as she says, is to reach true
preventative protection for the nation’s children. However, although the Lead Safe Housing Rule
change was focused on reactive measures, these new developments may lead to preventative
rules being enacted in the future.
Recently, President Trump’s proposed budget has called for cuts across federal agencies,
if passed, how could that impact Professor Benfer’s efforts? Professor Benfer noted that a budget
that heavily cuts funding to HUD would stymie efforts to get more proactive in trying to protect
children. Though the proposed budget would not cut lead protection funding, it would cut
community block grant programs, HUD’s main resource for developing creative policy changes,
including the ones necessary to protect children from lead paint. Even though HUD does not yet
know the extent of the impact of the budget cuts, there are other solutions.