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Fear of lead paint in HUD housing leads family to homeless shelter

The Department of Housing and Urban Development provides rent subsidies for millions of poor families
Chicago mom furious over lead paint in HUD housing 02:35

CHICAGO -- Over the course of his difficult life, six-year-old Makheil McMullen has had his blood tested more than 30 times. And it's never been easy.

Makheil cries as he has his blood drawn. CBS News

It's been a routine ever since elevated levels of lead were found in Makheil's blood.

"He started having health problems around sixteen months," said his mom, Tolanda McMullen.

Tolanda McMullen CBS News

Nowadays, Makheil is a slow learner with a speech impediment and attention disorders.

"I feel betrayed. I feel robbed," McMullen told us. Because almost everywhere she's lived in Chicago, it's been in subsidized housing where lead-based paint is a common threat.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) provides rent subsidies for the McMullens and millions of other poor families across the country. But HUD regulations say a child must actually be lead-poisoned before any repairs are required or moves approved.

More than two and a half million HUD-subsidized homes have hazardous levels of lead. But HUD's measurement of the danger is four times higher than what's recommended by the Centers for Disease Control.

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HUD, which declined our request for an on-camera interview, has proposed to bring its standard into line with the tougher CDC position -- but regulatory review takes a long time.

When we visited the McMullens, chipping and flaking lead-based paint was easy to spot at their home's threshold.

Chipping lead paint at the McMullens' HUD-subsidized home CBS News

Emily Benfer is a law professor at Loyola University, and the McMullens' civil legal aid attorney.

"In federally-assisted housing, families are being forced to choose between lead poisoning and the brain damage it causes or homelessness and life on the streets," she told us.

A few weeks ago, Tolanda McMullen chose homelessness. She and Makheil moved to a shelter June 3rd, and are now hoping HUD can find them a safe place to live.

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