‘Look at it as a pause:’ HUD official says main lead abatement concern in Milwaukee involves paint

MILWAUKEE -- Federal officials said Tuesday, Feb. 13 they are confident the Milwaukee Health Department will get its embattled lead abatement program back on track. This, one day after the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) issued a stop work order on the city's lead removal efforts.

Joseph Galvan, HUD Midwest regional administrator

"Like to look at it as a pause," said Joseph Galvan, HUD Midwest regional administrator.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett asked HUD for input on the city's lead crisis after an internal investigation revealed the department had not been keeping track of whether thousands of families exposed to lead ever received follow-up services.

In Milwaukee on Tuesday, Galvan said his main concern stems from how the city is removing lead paint from at-risk homes and buildings. Up until now, the city used grant money to hire contractors to remove lead paint, but only around the windows. That left the rest of the removal projects up to the property owners.

"But sometimes that's unsafe," Galvan said.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett

Mayor Barrett said he understands why that method is flawed -- and fully supports the changes.

"We are going to make sure the contractors do all of the work, not rely on the property owner to do the work. What that means is there will be fewer homes, but that the homes will be done more completely," Barrett said.

"I would have been concerned if nothing was happening, but the mayor has been proactive with staff to address the issue," Galvan said.

Over the next several days, Galvan said he will be in touch with the mayor's office and health department to determine the new requirements and how to implement them. Once that is done, the program can once again move forward.

"We have a great relationship working together, and it's a partnership, because at the end of the day, it's about the citizens of Milwaukee," Galvan said.

HUD officials on Tuesday also announced they've awarded nearly $240K to S.E.T. Ministry Inc. in Milwaukee as part of "a national endeavor to public housing authorities, public housing resident associations, Native American tribes and nonprofits to hire or retain service coordinators to help them find jobs, educational opportunities and achieve economic and housing Independence. CLICK HERE to learn more.