By Kevin Coleman
Cleveland Lead Advocates for Safe Housing (CLASH) released a proposed ballot initiative in February which would require landlords to test and treat their properties for lead contamination.
CLASH, which is made up of several other community organizations, told City Council that if it did not act, they would begin collecting signatures to force the proposal onto the ballot in November.
City Council did not act. In order to let Clevelanders vote on the legislation, CLASH needed to collect 5,000 signatures for the cause. The coalition has now turned in over 10,500 signatures to City Council just six short weeks after taking to the streets.
Once the Board of Elections certifies that at least 5,000 are “valid” signatures, City Council will have 90 days to adopt the measure before it is officially added to the ballot.
Nora Kelley is a West Park activist with CLASH who has been involved in several political causes since the last election cycle. She says the vast majority of people she petitioned were shocked when they learned that Cleveland did not already have laws to ensure rental properties were lead-safe.
“There is absolutely a huge sense of frustration that this issue has been such a low priority,” she said. “We’re essentially letting our children be the lead detectors instead of requiring landlords to do their due diligence.”
The urgency of the issue was underscored in a study released earlier this year by Case Western Reserve University. The report found that, of all Ohio children who tested positive for elevated levels of lead in their blood, 40-percent resided in Cuyahoga County. The study also established that 10-percent of children born in Cuyahoga County in 2012 had elevated levels of lead in their blood by age 5.
Sadly, these numbers may not illustrate the true urgency of Cleveland’s lead problem. Kelley says that one of the leading issues facing CLASH is the lack of lead screening for children at risk of lead poisoning.
“We don’t truly know how widespread the issue is because we are only made aware that a house is contaminated with lead after it is found in a child’s blood,” she said. “By the time resources are finally brought to bear, irreparable damage has already been done.”
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) found that there is no safe level of lead exposure. Even amounts measured in millionths of a gram can be detrimental to a child’s brain development and has been linked to several cognitive deficiencies. However, the measures suggested by CLASH would not require landlords to conduct a complete abatement.
The legislation proposed by CLASH requires properties to be certified as “lead-safe” before any family moves in. This means that, while there may still be detectable levels of lead, it would not be of grave concern to the occupants of the home. In addition, the proposal aims to establish a fund for both private and public designation to assist landlords in testing their properties and completing any necessary abatement.
Kelley says City Council’s failure to act quickly is especially frustrating because the legislation is practical and in the best-interest of all Cleveland residents. The seven organizations which comprise CLASH have spent years working closely with other cities who have used similar solutions to deal with their own lead issues.
“Our coalition’s central message is that this needs to be handled as a city-wide public policy issue which is taken care of quickly and comprehensively,” she said.
Residents of West Park and Greater Cleveland can take their own precautionary measures by using a simple lead testing kit in their home. Also, Kelley says the best way to tangibly support the cause is to contact City Council and the Mayor’s office to ensure your voice is heard.
“Everyone should be calling and telling our representatives to not wait on this issue any longer,” she said. “When we put millions of public dollars into renovating an arena but can’t ensure our children are safe from lead, we have some pretty mixed up priorities.”