June 1, 2018

As prepared for delivery. The speaker may add or subtract comments during his presentation.

Thank you very much, Chancellor (Dr. Franklin D. Gilliam, Jr.), for your warm U-N-C-G welcome and for all you are doing to lead this outstanding university.

I am pleased to join all of you for an excellent event and greatly appreciate the opportunity to make this the venue where HUD kicks off "Healthy Homes Month 2018."

I would like to recognize and thank Congressman Ted Budd, North Carolina's Representative from the 13th District, who is with us. Ted, it is great to spend time with you and I appreciate your interest and commitment to health, housing, and to the people of this great state and district who need your attention to the interconnectedness of these issues.

I would like to recognize the Regional Administrator for HUD, Denise Cleveland-Leggett, who oversees our work in North Carolina, and thank her for all she is doing for the people of this area. I also want to mention the important work being done by the members of our Office of Lead Hazard Control and Healthy Homes to educate and reach out to our partners on the federal, state, and local levels - both private and public - to ensure our communities are knowledgeable about the hazards inside the home and doing everything possible to participate in prevention.

My life's work -- prior to becoming HUD Secretary -- and my personal lifetime obsession, has been the development of the human brain. Almost the moment I became exposed to the art, science, and intricacies of the central organ of our nervous system - with its billions of nerves and trillions of connections --- and, then, with a revelation of an aptitude I was given with my hands, I knew it was my calling to become a neurosurgeon. Medical school had ignited a fire inside of me to learn everything about the brain, and to do everything possible to be the best I possibly could be at operating on it. In the course of that quest - from doctor, to neurosurgeon, to head of the Pediatric Neurosurgery division at Johns-Hopkins -- I became acutely aware of the horrible effects of lead poisoning on a child's mental and physical development.

I mention that to emphasize the mindset from whence I come to this topic and to HUD, as we announce Healthy Homes Month. Because I approach this endeavor - lead and other home hazard prevention -- with a tremendous sense of purpose, with an enormous degree of humility, and with an insatiable desire to fix these problems correctly and quickly.

I am very sensitive to the topic of health and housing for at least two additional reasons:

First, my mother, who raised my brother and me by herself from the time I was 8 years old, was forced to move us out of our modest home in Detroit, which she and my father were lucky to purchase. It wasn't much of a house, looking back on it now, but to my mother and to her two young boys, it was our home -- and it meant the world. In fact, my mother was so determined to do the best for her boys that she vowed to work as hard as it would take, to get back on her feet, and to move us back into that house. By the time I reached high school - the middle of eight grade -- that is exactly what she did.

While my mother was struggling with the emotional and financial challenge of our family breaking apart and single-motherhood, we moved for a time into rat- and roach-infested tenement housing in Boston. I don't like rats - which makes me wonder why I moved to Washington, DC where I'm exposed to dozens of political varmints every day (some of them in the media, believe it or not) - but the opportunity to improve the health, safety, and environment of others in housing is my overarching motivation. I can remember the roaches, and I can remember my mother's almost futile efforts to get rid of them. These are problems I want to fix…and I believe we will.

Second, when I was operating on young children at Johns Hopkins, my goal was to help them overcome very serious health problems, to mitigate at times seemingly intractable illnesses -- to heal -- often giving a very young child a second chance on life and even the opportunity to have a normal mental, physical, and spiritual development - when it may not have seemed remotely possible. I knew some of the children I treated would receive just that. But I also knew that some of my patients would leave the relative comfort of a renowned hospital only to return to a home that was not safe and not conducive to their success. That broke my heart many times. And I really believe I am in a better position today to do something about it, and that is what I intend to do. I am grateful for that opportunity.

Young children, particularly those under the age of 6, are especially vulnerable to the effects of exposure to lead. Over time, lead exposure -- even at low levels - can cause irreversible damage and threaten a young child's brain development. Higher levels of lead exposure can affect vital organs like the kidneys, the nervous system, and the blood -- in both children and adults -- while more extreme cases of lead poisoning can cause seizures, unconsciousness, and even death.

Most often, lead poisoning in children results from eating chips of deteriorating lead-based paint. House dust contaminated by small particles of lead-based paint or lead-contaminated soil is the other common source, and there are other cases of contaminated air, water, and tracked-in soil.

HUD, along with its partners and grantees, is focused on lead and other areas of great concern: asthma prevention, radon safety, pest control, smoke free housing, injury prevention, and natural disaster recovery.

HUD grantees support research on lead and healthy homes including the cost effectiveness of strategies to reduce hazards. These studies include the cost and benefits of intensive cleaning, ventilation improvements to prevent allergies and asthma, integrated pest control for preventing bed bugs in low-income housing.

While unhealthy and unsafe housing affects millions of people from all walks of life, we know that children, the poor, minorities, and people with chronic medical conditions are disproportionately impacted by unhealthy homes. As may be obvious, low-income families are more likely to lack resources for preventive measures in the home, and deferred maintenance can lead to the development and persistence of residential health hazards. Eventually, substandard housing affects communities through wealth depletion, an increase in abandoned properties, and housing instability.

The sustained and coordinated efforts by federal, state, local and non-governmental organizations to remove lead from a host of household products have been successful in reducing childhood lead exposure, but hundreds of thousands of homes of a certain age still present a threat to children. HUD estimates that nearly 30 million homes have indoor environmental hazards such as lead-based paint, mold, pests, water leaks and others.

We now have a long history understanding the connection between health and home and with lead and strategies to prevent exposure. We know the importance of the public-private partnerships in the work we do, and the importance of this to disproportionately-impacted and vulnerable populations including minorities.

HUD's Office of Lead Hazard Control and Healthy Homes provides us with leadership in reducing lead poisoning and is a significant contributor to the ongoing development of a federal strategy to eliminate childhood lead poisoning. HUD's programs have helped reduce overall disparities in the risk of exposure to lead in children based on race, ethnicity, socio-economic status, and where children live. These programs include our lead hazard control grant programs, enforcing our lead safety regulations, scientific research on housing related lead and health issues, and education and outreach with other federal agencies, state and local governments, non-profits, trade groups, and the private sector.

Our lead hazard control grantees make the privately-owned homes of families with low income, especially those with children under the age of six years old, lead safe. Our grantees are cities, counties, and state governments. They develop and use partnerships with local non-profits and community-based organizations to conduct their work and build capacity in the community for sustaining the effort even after the grant has ended.

Currently, HUD has about 120 active lead hazard control grantees in all 10 HUD Regions. Since these grant programs began in 1993, HUD has awarded over 1,050 grants in 45 states, and made over 200,000 homes lead safe for low-income families.

The more cost-efficient strategy from a health, human potential, and financial perspective is to prevent exposure to hazards in the home. We have proven that an ounce of prevention is worth many pounds of cure.

Each dollar invested in lead hazard control grants returns at least $17 to the Nation. This return is from decreased healthcare costs to children from their not being lead poisoned, their increased attendance at school, and, when they enter the workforce, their increased earning capacity. Over the life of the lead hazard control grant program, the nation has had a net benefit of at least $181 billion.

The work begins in our communities, in our neighborhoods, and in each home. It takes community engagement, public-private partnerships, and a dogged focus of outcomes with the help of our Grantees and partners.

Today, HUD is announcing the Protect Our Kids! - a lead safety rules enforcement campaign - a Department-wide review and effort to ensure compliance with regulations that are intended to reduce the potential of lead poisoning in children, in both privately owned homes and those receiving federal assistance.


The goal of our efforts this month, and my endeavors as HUD Secretary, is to unlock the potential of America's future. It is all about the kids, and it's all about ensuring they have a foundation and an environment for life that contributes to their ability to thrive.

One of the things that was reinforced as we visited Cottage Grove was the importance of partnerships. We desperately need the collaboration and communication. We need a holistic approach, not dividing strategies into separate issues. In order to make our homes as healthy and safe as possible for kids, we need to pay significant more attention to this approach. At HUD, that means combining Lead Hazard Control Funds with Healthy Hazard funds [word check]. It means developing a plan - lead, mold & moisture, fire, carbon monoxide - a strategy to prevent injury and illness - and switch the emphasis to prevention of these things, rather than reacting to exposures that become far more costly not only in precious and limited dollars, but in the human toll, the lost potential that results from our children not developing fully.

In Cottage Grove, we have an opportunity to do our disaster recovery in healthy and safe manner. We are reminded that HUD has an important role to play in the connection between identifying and addressing housing hazards that have an impact on potential health issues. We want to be pro-active. We want to focus on prevention rather than just treating illnesses. We need to ensure recovery efforts are done in the most safe and healthy way possible to protect children and families.

I want to conclude by thanking all in this room who are involved in our efforts during Healthy Housing Month and throughout the year. I also want to remind everyone that HUD's Office of Lead Control and Healthy Homes offers a wide range of educational tools, products, and resources to assist our partners at all levels in educating their communities about maintaining a lead-free and healthy homes.

Thank you.


Content Archived: January 27, 2020