Today’s guest blogger is Arlene Halfon, a program analyst in the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity.
HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity and the Office of Healthy Homes and Lead Hazard Control will soon issue an updated notice dealing with the nexus of lead-based paint and familial status discrimination, and I’d like to take this opportunity to highlight these often connected issues. As a mother and grandmother whose youngest grandchild is 6 years old, this is a matter with which I am greatly concerned.
Familial status discrimination means discrimination in housing against a family with a child under 18 years old or a pregnant woman. Standards for determining familial status discrimination are no different than for determining bias based on race, ethnicity, or any other Fair Housing Act protected class. In other words, when it comes to housing, it’s just as illegal to discriminate against families with small children as it is to play favorites based on the color of someone’s skin.
Children under six years of age are most at risk for developing elevated blood lead levels. However, tt’s also illegal for landlords to refuse renting to potential tenants with a child who has elevated blood lead levels – even if a unit has lead-based paint hazards – and landlords are required to advise current and prospective tenants if a home contains lead-based paint.
So, what does this mean for landlords? In many communities, it’s very straightforward. If a child under the age of six or with elevated levels of lead in their blood moves in, the landlord must treat the home for lead. Similarly, all HUD-assisted housing built before 1978 – when lead paint was still legal – must be evaluated, and identified lead problems must be controlled. Some other Federal, state and local housing assistance agencies follow HUD`s approach or have similar policies. Together, these measures legally obligate many landlords to provide safe housing for families with young or lead-affected children.
But what about landlords with properties who aren’t required to treat homes with lead paint before at-risk children move in? I suspect that some landlords do not treat the lead in their rental units with the hope that this will keep families with children from renting. But make no mistake: This is an act of discrimination.
By avoiding lead abatement, landlords discriminate against families with children whose health is at risk – families who all too often don’t have many options. After all, nobody chooses to live in a place that threatens their child’s health if they can help it. They choose riskier shelter when the only options are housing that is inferior in other ways or, even worse, having no home at all.
So, what can landlords do to avoid discrimination and protect vulnerable families? One option is to hold units that have been treated for lead hazards open for families with young children or children with elevated blood lead levels, so long as the treated units are no less desirable in other ways – for example, inferior location, physical condition, or size – from other available units. If it’s not possible to reserve treated units, landlords can instead give these families priority access to treated homes when they become available.