CLEVELAND — The Cleveland City Council’s Health and Human Services Committee unanimously passed out of committee Friday afternoon two pieces of legislation that aims to take a significant step toward combating the city’s lead crisis.
The committee’s vote came during a special hearing at the Lead Safe Home Summit, a one-stop-shop for expertise and resources that was organized by the United Way of Greater Cleveland.
Among other things, the proposed legislation would require owners of rental units to certify their properties as lead safe beginning in March 2021. All properties must be certified by March 2023. The proposed legislation would also increase the rental registration fee from $35 to $70; implement lead safe status disclosure in the sale or lease of property; creates a Lead Safe Auditor to monitor the lead safe certification process and creates a Lead Safe Advisory Board.
The Lead Safe Cleveland Coalition, a consortium of public, private and philanthropic agencies, spent months identifying best practices and drafting recommendations for proposed legislation. Those recommendations were eventually weaved into the proposed legislation that now heads to the Finance Committee.
It marks a major step in the community’s efforts to address the lead issues in Cleveland, which poisons a staggering number of children each year. Recent studies by Case Western Reserve University found that one in four children in Cleveland have elevated blood lead levels.
“I will tell people that we didn’t get into it overnight and we’re not going to fix it overnight. This is one of the most complex and vexing issues of our time,” said Councilman Blaine Griffin (Ward 6). “But the fact that we see an entire community coming together to say, ‘we’re going to solve this issue, we’re going to roll up our sleeves and we’re all going to have a role in this,’ is special. I think this is a special moment in our city’s history.”
The council won’t be alone in their efforts. While the city will be tasked with enforcing the proposed legislation, if passed, the coalition of private and philanthropic entities will have distinct support roles as well. Officials have previously mentioned that the private and philanthropic entities may assist the lead safe initiative by providing funding for low-income landlords who will be forced to make the required repairs and abatements to their properties. City officials have estimated that there are more than 80,000 rental units in the city. Ayonna Blue Donald, the director of the city’s department of building and housing, told councilmembers at Friday’s hearing that the number of rental units may have ballooned to more than 90,000. A majority of those homes were built prior to 1978 when lead paint was outlawed.
In Cleveland, children are exposed to lead through peeling paint, leaded windows, lead dust and other hazards that are associated with an aging housing stock.
Officials from the United Way of Greater Cleveland, the agency that organized Friday’s Lead Safe Home Summit, said it is vital for the community to address the lead crisis through prevention instead of reaction.
“The more and more we did the research and we understood the root causes of a lot of these issues, we understood that this United Way needed to take a stand on the root causes of many of these problems. The reality is lead poisons children,” said Nancy Mendez, the vice president of community impact. “We can invest all of these dollars into these wonderful programs but unless we tackle the issue of lead we’re not going to have the impact we need to make. We’re looking at a health crisis with a housing solution.”
Augie Napoli, the president and CEO of the United Way of Greater Cleveland, echoed the sentiments of many by stressing the need for collaboration and cooperation among dozens of community agencies. The number of people that attended the day-long summit, estimated to be above 600, is a testament to how serious the community is taking the issue, he said.
“We recognize that from the very earliest ages of children, if they are poisoned, that is going to put them behind the eight-ball for the rest of their lives. It has to stop,” Napoli said. “There isn’t any one organization, the United Way included, that can do this alone. It has to be a collaborative effort. Who wants their children to be poisoned? Who doesn’t want to put a safe roof over everyone’s head? I don’t know anyone that doesn’t want to do that… Unless you were aware of it, unless you live with those effects in your life, you dismiss it or you don’t even think about it. It’s all coming together around this issue.”
Councilman Griffin said the goal is to have the legislation voted on by the entire council by the end of the summer.