On the heels of a report that raised concerns about New York City's lead paint inspection process, the de Blasio administration has announced that it will perform targeted outreach to buildings constructed prior to 1978 as part of an effort to reach families with young children living in homes where lead paint may still exist.
All told, the city will call and send letters to approximately 100,000 households in 8,120 buildings, according to a press release issued on Thursday.
In September, Scott Stringer, the city comptroller, released the results of an investigation that found that the city failed to check for lead paint at 9,099 private residential buildings where 11,168 children had tested positive for high levels of lead between 2013 and late 2018. In a stunning lack of follow-through, the Health Department, which had collected the addresses of the children who tested positive for high levels of lead, never shared its information with the Department of Housing Preservation & Development (HPD).
The announcement of the latest ramped-up effort comes less than one week before the City Council is scheduled to hold an oversight hearing on the city's enforcement of lead laws.
Mayor Bill de Blasio had previously explained the city's communication lapse by pointing to the difference between the city and federal standards for dangerous lead exposure. In the period of the study, the threshold for the city taking action was 10 micrograms per deciliter for children under 6 and 15 micrograms for those between 6 and 18 years old. The comptroller looked at children under 18 who tested higher than 5 micrograms, a far lower benchmark the city began using only last year.
"It's very complex," he told WNYC's Brian Lehrer. "I think the reality is there were different standards being held...they were not aligned, and trying to figure out what the right thing to do took some time."
Stringer on Thursday took credit for spurring the city to launch a more aggressive outreach. “Previously, the City’s goal was to proactively inspect 200 buildings per year," he said in a statement. "Today, because of our investigation, the City has committed to proactively reaching out to thousands of previously uninspected buildings identified in our investigation to help eliminate the scourge of lead poisoning as part of a far more robust inspection approach."
Under the plan, HPD and the Health Department will conduct inspections on request in apartments with a child under 6. Building owners whose units are found to have peeling lead-based paint will be required to remedy the condition and be subject to violations.
In the event the condition is not addressed, HPD will make the repairs and bill the owner.
Lead-poisoning has been cited for its damaging and lasting health effects, particularly on children's brain and nervous systems.
According to a city report, children who live in private housing are more than twice as likely to be exposed to lead in their environment as children in public housing. The New York City Housing Authority is currently undergoing its own lead inspection effort following a scandal that found more than 800 children testing positive for high levels of lead.
But within private residences, New York City has historically put the onus of lead-paint inspections on landlords. Under Local Law 1, which was passed in 2004, landlords of buildings with three or more units built before 1960 are responsible for annual inspections and for remediating lead-based paint hazards in the apartments of young children.
While the rate of lead poisoning among children declined in the city following the passage of Local Law 1, some public health advocates and legal experts have in recent years argued that the city has been lax in its enforcement and accountability practices.
According to Matthew Chachere, a staff attorney at Northern Manhattan Improvement Corporation who represents child victims of lead poisoning, since the 2004 law, the city has written 148,000 violations to landlords for peeling paint, but only two violations for failure to perform abatement and ensure vacancy, and two violations for missing the required annual inspection.
"The administration seems to me to be only interested in protecting landlords," Chachere said.
He dismissed the city's latest plan, saying, "On the ground, it doesn't make any difference at all."