The next time you hear the head of the New York City Housing Authority tell you not to worry about the widespread presence of lead paint in public housing developments, don’t believe her.
When over 200 children living in public housing were found to have high lead levels in their blood, NYCHA CEO Shola Olatoye evaded responsibility by announcing that only 17 of the housing authority’s apartments contained dangerous levels of lead paint. Directly contradicting this data were the city Health Department’s findings that 63 of those apartments tested positive for lead paint.
What could account for the enormous discrepancy between these figures?
Even if an apartment is covered in lead paint, the NYCHA considers it “no risk” if the paint is not visibly chipped upon inspection and if the apartment is not inhabited by children under the age of 6.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara is presently conducting a civil investigation into whether the NYCHA was dishonest when reporting the condition of its apartments to the federal government.
Lead paint was banned in New York in 1960, and then banned across the country in 1978. However, it has still not been removed from numerous buildings around the city. When ingested in the form of paint chips, or inhaled as dust, lead has been found to cause behavioral problems, learning disorders, and brain damage in children.
Many public housing developments were constructed before 1960, and according to the NYCHA, approximately 55,000 of its apartments may still contain lead paint. Over 10,000 of those apartments are inhabited by children under the age of 6.
The Red Hook East Houses is one of the oldest housing developments in the country, and it is also the worst lead paint offender. Between January 2013 and March 2015, the NYCHA inspected 113 apartments in the Red Hook development. Lead paint was found in 105 of them.
In 2010, the NYCHA began abating the lead paint in apartments that tested positive for the toxic chemical. However, the housing authority has adopted a policy of waiting until tenants move out before abating the lead paint.
“Lead paint abatement should be part of the annual inspection. Why would you inspect a pre-1960 or pre-1978 apartment without abating? It defies the imagination,” said City Councilman Ritchie Torres, who is a chairman of the Public Housing Committee.
If you are living in a pre-1960 public housing apartment with a young child, do not expect the NYCHA to notify you of the presence of lead paint in your building. They have demonstrated that they will do no such thing. Call 311 or visit 311 online to report chipped paint and have your apartment inspected.
Sources: “Lead-Based Paint,” NYC Housing Preservation & Development.
Smith, Greg B., “Feds probing questionable NYCHA statistics on lead tainted apartments,” New York Daily News, 12 June 2016.
Smith, Greg B., “NYCHA Red Hook East Houses have thousands of apartments with lead paint — the most of any public housing project in the city,” New York Daily News, 11 June 2016.