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HUD’s Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) Program is a federal program that provides financial assistance to low-income families to assist them in residing in affordable, safe and sanitary housing. Every year HUD receives an appropriation of funds for the HCV Program that is funneled to local PHA’s that administer the program. Families can apply to the HCV Program at local PHAs directly, who will collect the necessary information and determine eligibility based on the total annual gross income, family size, and citizenship. According to federal law, 75 percent of a PHA’s vouchers must go to applicants whose incomes do not exceed 30 percent of the area median income. Generally, an applicant’s income cannot exceed 50 percent of the area median income of the county or metropolitan areas in which they choose to live to be eligible. If the applicant is determined to be eligible to receive a voucher, they will be placed on the waiting list at the local PHA until a voucher can be issued.
Families that receive a voucher are then HCV Program. The owner of the property is responsible for ensuring that all Housing Quality Standards (HQS) are met. This standard includes a certification that the property follows HUD’s annual housing quality standards (HQS) related to lead-based paint. This requirement allows PHA’s to verify that any home that is chosen by an HCV recipient is lead-safe before the family is able to move in.
There are two ways to deploy Housing Choice Voucher Program resources to address lead hazards and lead poisoning in local housing – through incentivizing private investment in lead hazard remediation and through public assistance to families with young children in obtaining lead safe housing. The first, is to utilize the HCV existing inspection and enforcement infrastructure under the Lead Safe Housing Rule to uphold lead safe housing standards in units where lead hazards are addressed but not fully abated, or to enforce lead-free requirements, where applicable in units undergoing more substantial housing rehabilitation ($25,000 or greater). HUD’s HQS annual inspections require that chipping, peeling paint (lead hazards above the de minimis level) be addressed in pre-1978 constructed HCV properties utilizing lead safe work practices.
By enforcing HQS and the Lead Safe Housing Rule standards for chipping, peeling paint, water and moisture infiltration and/or other structural defects related to the generation of lead hazards, HUD HCV funding can spur private sector investment voluntarily or by withholding the rental subsidy until the owner brings the property into compliance. Local and state housing and health authorities should actively coordinate with the Housing Choice Voucher Program to ensure that these enforcement activities are taking place, particularly where a child has an elevated blood lead level, which triggers a 30-day lead hazard remediation response period in HCV housing.
The second is to utilize Housing Choice Vouchers as part of an overall jurisdictional strategy to permanently relocate families from lead hazardous properties where children with EBLs reside to lead certified housing. HCV Programs can establish preferences for their vouchers and a program can be established to utilize HCVs for EBL families who do not have sufficient income to be approved for new rental housing nor afford the monthly rent to maintain themselves in affordable, lead certified housing that has been treated and inspected. This occurs most frequently when a larger household is unable to afford a three or four bedroom lead certified rental property. To justify the lead preference to the PHA and ensure that the Program remains sustainable, it is recommended that the following Program criteria be followed:
- EBL child must reside in the property
- Property must have active, verified lead-based paint hazards
- Rental property owner must be unresponsive to enforcement actions for the remediation of lead hazards in the property if a rental property
- Homeowner does not have the financial resources to remediate lead hazards, property is structurally unsound and/or homeowner is ineligible for local lead grant/loan programs
- Family must be unable to afford new rental home and other resources have been exhausted
GHHI’s Maryland Family Advocacy Program partnered with the Housing Authority of Baltimore City’s HCV Program to establish an HCV preference for lead affected families. The Program has resulted in 250 vouchers being allocated specifically for use by families of an EBL child to relocate permanently from lead hazardous housing to lead free or lead certified housing. Through this partnership, families of EBL children are provided with a safe, healthy and affordable housing alternative in Maryland. This model may be limited by the availability of Housing Choice Vouchers in your community, though children with special health needs can be given priority on waitlists for federally-assisted housing.