By Arthur Z. Schwartz
October saw more revelations about the extent to which public housing residents, especially children were being exposed to lead. And what we learned may be the tip of the iceberg. This an enormous problem: approximately 600,000 people live in NYC Housing Authority buildings; jus less than 8% of City residents, one out of every 12 people we see. And a large number have young children. There are 175,000 NYCHA apartments in NYC, and the vast majority of the buildings were built before 1970, which was when the dangers of paint containing lead were revealed, and lead paint was banned. (Lest it be obvious, this is a 50-year old problem.)
Reports published by The City, a daily on-line investigative newspaper, revealed that three times the number of children under 6 have been exposed than was previously revealed.
According to Greg Smith in The City, “NYCHA officials this week acknowledged for the first time that there are 9,000 apartments — not 3,000 apartments as they had asserted — that likely contain lead paint where youngsters live. Children under 6 are particularly susceptible to cognitive damage caused by exposure to lead.”
The numbers were revealed in a report from Bart Schwartz, the Federal Monitor appointed as part of the settlement of litigation brought by the Federal Government. His report confirmed, once again, a deliberate effort by the Housing Authority leadership to cover up its failure to perform required lead paint inspections. The monitor’s report found that NYCHA is likely to blow its own deadline to examine 134,000 apartments for lead by the end of 2020.
Apparently, NYCHA does not even know how many children live in these apartments.
Folks who live in the Village may not think about this a lot, but there are thousands of NYCHA apartments just north of us in Chelsea. One development is Fulton Houses, an enclave between 9th and 10th Avenues, and Chelsea-Elliot Houses, north of 23rd Street. We all live in the same City Council District.
Here is the problem according to The City; the last time NYCHA did a report, in 2016, they downplayed the numbers. I have personally represented NYCHA employees who were directed to inspection results that found lead in apartments, and poisoned kids were made to remain in tainted apartments amid the appeals
The Federal Monitor reported that NYCHA is undertaking an emergency testing effort which will see them visiting thousands of apartments that may contain lead paint, apartments previously “overlooked.”
NY City Council Member Alicka Ampry-Samuel, from Brooklyn, chair of the City Council’s public housing committee, blasted NYCHA: “At this point in time, there is no room for excuses. We should be at a place where we know the apartments that have lead exposure and who lives in them. Just that simple. To continue playing this game of paper shuffling is increasing the known risk of detrimental health hazards and brain damage in our children. If NYCHA cannot get it right and ensure these apartments are safe, people should lose their jobs, and some should go to jail for reckless endangerment of a child.”
And this is one where the finger needs to point to the top, both the Mayor’s office and the City Council. And for the two NYCHA developments in Chelsea, we need to ask, why Council Member Corey Johnson and his staff have not been on top of this? Why has this horrific situation continued to fester.”
The solutions are not simple. They all involve money. This is not a great time to ask for money, but this crisis, to NYCHA residents, ranks up there with COVID. (So do the broken compactors, rampant mold, and malfunctioning elevators).
Arthur Schwartz is President of Advocates for Justice, which has litigated on behalf of NYCHA tenants.