CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - A few days after the Lead Safe Cleveland Coalition released its report on 33 recommendations to address dangerous levels of lead in Cleveland’s aging rental homes, the City Council’s Committee on Health and Human Services met to discuss whether council members will make any of these recommendations law.
Lead-based paint, which was used heavily in homes prior to 1978, can pose a fatal danger to children, especially if ingested.
Robin Brown’s daughter was 4 years old in 1999 when she began experiencing symptoms of lead poisoning. Brown founded an organization that helps families deal with lead poisoning, including putting safe screening and rehab procedures in place, which help homeowners and tenants determine if their homes pose a hazard. She also worked with the Lead Safe Cleveland Coalition to help craft its recommendations.
"I really feel the structure of these recommendations are good, is fair," said Brown. "They're not leaving it solely on the homeowner to fix the problem that is really a city problem, a city-wide problem. They're looking for the resources to help them with it."
One of those recommendations, if approved by city council, would mandate a testing and certification process for rental homes built before 1978, which would serve to verify that they do not contain harmful levels of lead.
However, there were several questions about how the program would be rolled out and monitored. Coalition members told members of the committee that the had intentionally avoided any criminal penalties when crafting their recommendations, instead suggesting only fines and civil penalties for landlords who fail to keep their rental homes lead-safe.
“And if they don’t, then they shouldn’t be able to rent their unit. But we wanted to avoid criminal penalties, especially because in some of the neighborhoods where we have the ‘mom and pop’ landlords and the landlords tend to be more on the margin,” said Abigail Staudt with Legal Aid, a member of the coalition.
She suggested that criminal charges might focus on African-American landlords.
Some members of the committee rejected that, saying they believed criminal penalties might be necessary to ensure compliance among the city’s landlords.
“There should be some criminal aspects, that we should not let anyone off the hook for poisoning our babies, because this point, as we can see today, has everlasting impacts on so many things,” said Councilman Anthony Hairston.
The committee did not iron out this part of the debate or come to any consensus on whether penalties will include fines or jail time. However, several members suggested a separate meeting to address this issue alone.
Committee members also had questions about how Cleveland might fund the lead safe efforts, with several suggesting cooperative efforts between the city coffers, landlords, and non-profit fundraising.