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Lead Paint in Public Housing Remains a Problem in New York

By Rheingold Giuffra Ruffo Plotkin & Hellman LLP

Formed in 1934, the New York City Housing Authority is a public development corporation that is in charge of all low-to-moderate housing initiatives in the 5 boroughs of New York City. In addition, it administers a citywide Section 8 Leased Housing Program in rental apartments.

Section 8 rentals are administered through the federal agency Housing and Urban Development but operated locally by public housing agencies who determine who is eligible to receive the federal vouchers for housing assistance.

Since its inception during the Great Depression, these assistance programs have been controversial and their programs criticized for mismanagement and their lack of impact in terms of addressing the root causes of poverty and housing issues.

The most recent issue with the local housing authority concerns the presence of lead paint in these housing facilities. This is not the first time, we’ve encountered such a problem.

A few years ago, local media wrote a piece on the Housing Authority’s failure to inspect and maintain public housing in a safe manner, specifically involving lead paint.

The city released a memo Tuesday stating that it had not fully abided by federal protocols for handling lead paint hazards in Section 8 properties, and as a result, would reinspect all such buildings with a child under 6 by the end of November.

In the document, the city Department of Housing Preservation and Development said it has not always assumed peeling paint contained lead in older buildings or required owners to use safe work practices while remediating such spots.”

Exposure to lead-based paint is a very serious issue. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Exposure to even low levels of lead can cause damage over time, especially in children. The greatest risk is to brain development, where irreversible damage can occur. Higher levels can damage the kidneys and nervous system in both children and adults. Very high lead levels may cause seizures, unconsciousness and death.”

Lead in paint has been banned since 1978 but is still present in older buildings, such as those administered by the Housing Authority. In spite of state and federal regulations mandating vigilance, maintenance, and rehabilitation of these buildings, the NY Housing Authority has continuously been remiss in its duties.

In a November 2018 NY Times article describing the problem in New York, the Times notes,

“Entrusted as the landlord to 400,000 people, the Housing Authority has struggled for years to fulfill its mission amid a strangled budget and almost endemic political neglect. Last week, a judge suggested strongly that the federal government should take over the agency after an investigation found evidence of deep mismanagement, including that the Housing Authority failed to perform lead inspections and then falsely claimed it had. Six top executives lost their jobs amid the federal investigation; a complaint was filed in June.

But the authority did not just ignore the required lead inspections, The New York Times found. For at least two decades, almost every time a child in its apartments tested positive for high lead levels, Nycha launched a counteroffensive, city records show. From 2010 through July of this year, the agency challenged 95 percent of the orders it received from the Health Department to remove lead detected in Nycha apartments.

This is unacceptable. The federal and state governments need to respond to this issue now. At Rheingold Giuffra Ruffo Plotkin & Hellman we have dedicated our professional lives to assisting people in such situations. Contact us today for a free evaluation of your case.

Thomas P. Giuffra, Partner

Thomas P. Giuffra, Partner

Thomas specializes in the litigation and trial of significant civil sexual assault, medical malpractice, personal injury, mass tort, and product liability actions. His innovative approach has led to 20 verdicts and numerous settlements in excess of one million dollars on behalf of his clients, including a recent landmark verdict for $58 Million. He has been recognized as "outstanding in the field of advocacy" nationally and internationally.

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