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FLOC: Lead Paint to be renewed as Community Issue to be solved

By La Prensa Staff

 

March 2019: Toledo's minority community will once again call for a solution to lead paint in the city's older homes, hoping to stem the health effects on children in the community's rental housing stock.

 

The Brown and Black Unity Coalition plans to demand answers from Toledo City Council as to why they fell silent on the issue following a court order blocking lead pain legislation from being implemented last year. The coalition will be led in the effort by Baldemar Velásquez, president/ founder of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC), and Ray Wood, NAACP president.

Baldemar Velásquez

 

“That lead in the paint causes brain damage to children. Studies were done of people incarcerated and they found out some 70 percent of the inmates had elevated levels of lead,” said Velasquez.

 

“The chips from the paint, and the dust from the paint are still there,” said Wood. “Every day, kids are being impacted by the effects of lead paint poisoning. Once you’re contaminated, it’s irreversible. You have that forever. It affects the way your mind operates.”

 

Lead paint in the central city could become a hot-button political issue in the coming months, as six district seats on Toledo City Council will be up for grabs in September's city-wide primary and November's general election. Republican city councilman Tom Waniewski is term-limited and cannot run again, while the Lucas County Democratic Party recently refused to endorse incumbent councilman Tyrone Riley in an upcoming three-candidate race in the city primary.

 

“I can’t comprehend that any elected official thinks it’s all right under any circumstances to damage and to poison children’s minds,” said Velasquez.

 

“Every time we’ve brought this up in the past, we’ve not had the stamina to see it all the way through,” said Wood. “This is one of those things where if you don’t stay on top of it, it will get swept under the rug or everybody will forget about it, but the issue continues.”

 

The issue is gaining political traction, making the time ripe for the Black and Brown Unity Coalition to begin raising their voices. At-large Toledo city councilman Larry Sykes announced he would reintroduce lead paint legislation that covers all rental homes and apartment buildings.

 

“Push the elected officials, push the politicians to not allow the slum landlords who don’t even live in those areas, to take our money and take our rent and poison our children,” said Velásquez. “We’ve got to give our politicians some courage.”

 

Sykes stated he got tired of waiting for a mayor’s working group to craft a solution. The group has been meeting since last summer, when Judge Linda Jennings struck down a previous city ordinance as unconstitutional and discriminatory. Critics believe it could be years before that working group crafts a passable compromise, while kids continue to suffer lead poisoning.

 

The previous law only covered smaller rentals, not all rental housing units. The judge also ruled city leaders don’t have the authority to grant enforcement authority to the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department, which was originally assigned with registering properties. The amended lead-safe ordinance Sykes is pushing moves that task to Toledo’s Department of Neighborhood and Business Development

 

“We’re not going to walk away from that. We’ve appealed (the case) and we’re going to continue with other groups in the city to stay on top of this,” said Wood. “I think they are hoping, because it was overturned in court, that we’re going to walk away from it and continue to let kids be poisoned. This is going to be one of our focal targets and we will stand together and make sure that we can win this for the sake of our kids.”

 

“Why are we being so polite about this issue?” Velásquez wondered aloud. “If it was my children living in that old house, I’d be very urgent about it. I wouldn’t care about what people say or how they’re using the law to stop this. We need to use FLOC tactics to go after these suckers. We need some creative non-violence.”

 

A group of landlords known as The Property Investor’s Network brought the lawsuit and now some of its members sit on the mayor’s working group. The Black and Brown Unity Coalition contends some of those same landlords attended community forums to show support for a lead-safe law to clean up problem properties.

“What they said about being concerned about lead poisoning and children didn’t mean anything, because at the end of the day, their total concern was with their pocketbook and how much they would have to spend to make sure that these dwellings and these units were up-to-code,” said Wood. “This ordinance was to let landlords know they were going to be held accountable if they didn’t take care of their property. You won’t eliminate it, but you try to make it lead-safe.”

The issue also is getting attention at the state level. Governor Mike DeWine announced a plan March 13 to invest millions more over the next two years to address lead poisoning in Ohio’s housing stock and test children.

“It is unconscionable to me that in 2019, there are still children whose opportunities are stifled because they live in homes where they are exposed to lead paint. Every year, thousands of Ohio children under the age of six test positive for unsafe lead levels. Undoubtedly, there are countless more who have never been tested,” said Governor DeWine. “No child should be poisoned in their own home.”

Just 60 percent of Medicaid-eligible children are tested each year. The governor’s plan would force providers and managed care organizations to test all eligible children. An additional $24 million would go to the Department of Developmental Disabilities’ Early Intervention Program to, among other things, help provide physical, speech, and occupational therapy services to children who have dangerously high levels of lead in their blood.

Ohio Department of Health data shows that since 2016, 933 children age 6 and younger in Toledo have had confirmed blood-lead levels above CDC levels of concern. Another 391 kids had unconfirmed elevated levels, but did not get a confirmatory second test.

Under the governor’s plan, The Ohio Department of Health will provide $10 million from the State Child Health Insurance Program to fund investigations and lead abatement. The state health department also would set aside $450,000 to reimburse individuals the costs of becoming licensed lead workers and contractors in order to increase the lead hazard control workforce.

Landlords would be eligible for an income tax credit of up to $10,000 if they incurred expenses to make their homes lead-safe. The new Ohio Director of Children’s Initiatives is being tasked to convene an internal working group of experts from four state agencies to streamline and improve the state’s lead detection, abatement, and early intervention services. The funding proposals are outlined in the governor’s two-year budget proposal, which must be passed by state lawmakers.

 

 

 
Copyright © 1989 to 2019 by [LaPrensa Publications Inc.]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 03/26/19 12:59:24 -0800.

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