Monday, the Health and Human Services Committee of Cleveland City Council hosted a hearing to review legislation and hear testimony from local organizations working to help eliminate childhood lead poisoning.
Led by committee chair Blaine Griffin, the hearing was part of an ongoing campaign to inform council members and the general public about solutions to Cleveland's lead crisis in the hopes of passing legislation before the year's end.
The Cleveland Lead Safe Network, a loose assembly of housing advocates, lead survivors and civic-minded people, presented to the committee their proposal, much of which was adopted in an ordinance last year put forward by then-councilman Jeff Johnson.
Organizer Spencer Wells said their plan was simple and straightforward.
"Our plan is to make landlords responsible for making properties lead-safe," Wells told Scene Monday afternoon. "The thrust of the plan is that the landlord is responsible to have a lead-risk assessment. They then follow an assessor's recommendations to get a lead safe certificate, which will be on file with the City of Cleveland."
The proposal would "create universal coverage" of all rental housing built before 1978 and could stimulate job growth by creating opportunities to train and employ specialized inspectors.
Wells said the reaction from the committee was one of surprise — it seemed so straightforward! He said there were some "really insightful comments" from council members who agreed that the issue merited serious attention. He said there wasn't much pushback, but that councilman Tony Brancatelli, who chairs the Development and Sustainability committee, said that the city already holds landlords responsible. The key is enforcement.
"We tried to explain that enforcement is pretty easy in our proposal," Wells said. "Either the landlord complies or he doesn't. It's not like the city needs to send out inspectors."
Wells said that the only "area of fuzziness" in the CLSN proposal was a recommendation that the city help low-income landlords with lead remediation (estimated to cost anywhere from $100 - $5,000 per home). In a PowerPoint presentation, the group proposed some options, including a "revolving loan fund" financed by local philanthropic organizations and corporations, but that area remains unclear.
Ordinance 990-17 was crafted last year after CLSN approached councilman Johnson and Johnson worked with Legal Aid over a series of meetings to draft it. Wells said Johnson was not a "passive bystander who just signed his name." He said Johnson was active in shaping the legislation and feared that mayoral politics may have hampered its earlier adoption. (Johnson ran for Mayor in 2017.)
After Monday's meeting, Wells said that Griffin will meet with the philanthropic community to brainstorm and that the Health and Human Services and Development and Sustainability Committees will then meet with the Council President to crank out a piece of legislation that represents the broadest consensus. Wells said 990-17 will likely be incorporated into the new ordinance.
While council spends the summer thinking and "arguing behind the scenes," CLSN plans to do outreach in Cleveland communities, Wells said.
"Our plan is to tell people about our idea and tell them to tell their councilperson about it," Wells said. "What we've really wanted was to present an alternative to the current method, which is to wait until children get poisoned and then inspect their houses. We just think that's ass-backwards."
Testimony by CLSN's Diana King, about her family's travails living with lead poisoning on the city's west side, put a face on the crisis for council.
Wells said he was generally optimistic after the hearing.
"Right now, we're on the verge of the sausage-making," he said. "We think our plan makes a lot of sense, but we've got to see what comes out the other side."