While conducting an ongoing audit of the Philadelphia Housing Authority’s (Authority) management of lead-based paint hazards in its public housing units, we identified a significant gap in HUD’s program requirements related to safe work practices, which we believe requires immediate action by HUD. We identified that the Authority determined a substantial percentage of maintenance and hazard reduction work performed on surfaces with lead-based paint in its public housing units was “de minimis”, or minor. The Authority’s determinations exempted the work from HUD’s rules requiring safe work practices. In some cases, the documentation in the Authority’s maintenance files indicated the work might have been labeled improperly as minor or “de minimis.” However, HUD does not require assisted property owners like public housing agencies (PHAs) to maintain evidence supporting that the work was minor. The lack of a requirement for assisted property owners to maintain such documentation impedes HUD’s ability to conduct meaningful oversight of property owners’ compliance with HUD’s requirements for safe work practices. The lack of a requirement also limits HUD’s and OIG’s ability to verify that the de minimis exemption is being properly applied. While this risk became apparent during our ongoing audit of a PHA, we believe this risk extends beyond HUD’s public housing program to all HUD-assisted programs where the de minimis exemption may apply. We believe HUD should take immediate steps to mitigate the risk that the exemption is being applied too broadly and thereby increasing the potential for residents and maintenance staff to be exposed to lead-based paint hazards.
We recommend that HUD require assisted property owners, including PHAs, to maintain evidence to support determinations that maintenance and hazard reduction work that disturbs lead-based paint in target housing are minor such that they can be properly exempted from HUD’s safe work requirements.