by Bruce Checefsky
(January 2019, Plain Press) Community activist Tazz Mays is impassioned about lead safe legislation. As a volunteer for the Cleveland Lead Safe Network, a small organization seeking to pass lead safe legislation in Cleveland, he’s committed to getting enough petition signatures to place legislation on the ballot in the November 2019 election. CLSN expects to get 5,000 signatures but are aiming for 15,000, three times the amount needed to make the ballot initiative.
“If you get poisoned by lead, you’re seven times more likely to go to jail,” said Mays at a meeting of the Cuyahoga County Progressive Caucus Regional Meeting on December 1stat the Jefferson Branch of the Cleveland Public Library. “Getting lead poisoning is the equivalent to smoking a pack of cigarettes a day for life. Lead poisoning stays in your system. It’s harmful to all your major organs including your kidneys and respiratory system,” Mays added.
Sections of Cleveland rank near the top of the list of the most dangerous lead hotspots in America, a recent Reuters study revealed.
The New York Times reported in 2016 that the unsafe elevated levels of lead were detectable in 14.2 percent of children in Cleveland, more than double that of Flint, Michigan, following the disastrous drinking water tragedy where levels peaked at 7 percent. Children who experience lead poisoning often have cognitive and behavioral development issues and lower educational attainment.
Research has shown that following the banned use of lead-based paint in residential structures and environments by Congress in 1978, the murder rate in several major cities started to decline.
“Crime dropped in half because we banned lead,” said Mays. “It’s really that simple.”
Mays attempted to meet with City Council on several occasions to outline a proposal for lead safe legislation.
“I honestly don’t know why Cleveland hasn’t passed legislation,” he said. “We’ve talked to every single member of City Council with no results. I even gave testimony in front of City Council. Ward 8 Councilman Jeff Johnson introduced legislation in 2016. They didn’t even have a hearing on it.”
Congress enacted Title X of the Public Health Service Act of 1970, adding the Lead-Based Paint Hazard Program (Section 1018 of Title X) in 1992.
Federal law requires that a landlord must disclose any known lead-based paint hazards on the premises. If a rental property was built prior to 1978, a landlord must supply tenants with a lead-based paints disclosure form and a copy of the US EPA’s “Protect Your Family from Lead in the Home” educational pamphlet. The lease must also include a lead warning statement confirming that the landlord complied with lead disclosure laws.
Landlords in violation of Title X can be fined up to $10,000 for each violation.
The majority of Ohio’s lead laws are reactive as opposed to preventative in that the State is under few obligations to act to address lead hazards until after a child has suffered lead poisoning and that lead poisoning has been confirmed by a blood test.
Neither Federal or State law require a landlord to do anything if lead paint is actually found.
“One of the reasons for City Council dragging their feet on legislation, it’s suspected that many members own properties,” Mays said. “They’re not interested in making any more work or expenses for themselves. That’s a major problem.”
According to the EPA, professional lead-based paint removal costs about $8 to $15 per square foot or about $9,600 to $30,000 for a 1,200 to 2,000-sq. ft. house. The average removal project costs about $10,000.
In 2012, the City of Cleveland lost a $2 million United States Department of Housing and Urban Development grant for cleaning hazardous lead paint and dust from homes because officials failed to spend the federal money in a timely manner.
HUD awarded Cleveland a $3.4 million grant in 2017 to “reduce the number of children with elevated blood lead levels, and protect nearly 7,600 families living in homes with significant lead and other home health and safety hazards.”
As part of his election campaign, Ohio Governor Michael DeWine vowed to “…make sure that Ohio gets the gold standard for addressing lead poisoning…” by providing a tax credit for homeowners and landlords who safely remove lead-based paint from their homes and rental properties. Governor DeWine vowed to work with paint companies to remediate the problem. “I believe that we must have everyone at the table to come up with a solution.”
Still, Cleveland lags far behind the country when it comes to legislative policy and enforcement.
The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland believes there are between 60,000 and 80,000 pre-1978 homes and rental units that have some form of lead-paint contamination, putting thousands of children at risk for brain damage.
The City of Cleveland Lead Hazard Control (LHC) Grant Program is designed to strategically advance efforts to increase lead-safe affordable housing while eliminating the possibility of childhood lead poisoning in the City of Cleveland, according to their website. The LHC program provides lead risk assessments, identifies lead–based paint and provides grants to control lead-based paint hazards.
Of the hundred sixty or so inspectors at the City of Cleveland Department of Building and Housing, only a handful are assigned to regularly test for lead-based paint. Even though the number of inspectors has increased over the past several years, often they’re mired in administrative paperwork when they should be in the field testing for lead.
The Cuyahoga County Progressive Caucus (CCPC) is amassing a coalition of organizations to help get lead safe legislation on the ballot for November 2019, according to CCPC co-director Steve Holecko.
Civil rights attorney Rebecca Maurer, owner and founder of Maurer Law LLC and Peter Pattakos, founding partner at Pattakos Law Firm LLC, which specializes in protection of civil rights and employees’ rights in the workplace, provided valuable advice to CCPC, helping them tweak the legislation Councilman Johnson introduced to City Council.
“Attorney Rebecca Maurer wrote the legislation for Jeff (Johnson),” said Holecko. “It’s well-known that we’re meeting with her and Pattakos to see what they come up with.”
CLSN, Progressive Caucus, Democratic Socialist of America, and SEIU1199 (Health Care and Social Services Union) are on board. They hope to get other organizations to support lead safe legislation for the ballot in November.
“We’ll be out there canvasing for signatures after the holidays, once the weather gets warmer,” he added.
Charter Review is expected to be on the ballot next fall as well. A petition to reduce City Council from 17 to 9, three at large and six wards, is certain to raise some eyebrows. This could tilt the balance of power to special interest groups with deep financial pockets determined to sway elected officials away from passing lead-paint legislation.