Members of the Elm City’s yet-to-be-formalized Lead Paint Advisory Committee met at City Hall last Thursday to discuss proposed amendments to the city’s lead ordinance. In a brief discussion, members of the committee raised suggestions for possible revisions to the ordinance, as well as ways for the city to better coordinate with stakeholders and educate community members on the issue.

Mayor Toni Harp’s administration submitted the proposed amendments to the Board of Alders in August. At the time, the city was in the midst of a still-ongoing class-action lawsuit alleging it had relaxed its lead standards. Two weeks ago, members of the Board of Alders’ legislation committee voted unanimously to table the ordinance after a heated public hearing at City Hall.

At last Thursday’s meeting, interim Health Director Roslyn Hamilton suggested that the city may “tweak” the ordinance amendments — though she referred specifically to increasing fines and penalties, not any alterations to the health department procedures laid out in the amendments, which opponents of the ordinance have criticized.

When asked at Thursday’s meeting if the Board of Alders had submitted any feedback after the hearing, Hamilton responded that the board “didn’t understand [lead policy]” and “needed more information.”

The city submitted the ordinance in the wake of the still-pending class-action lawsuit which alleged that the health department had moved from inspecting the homes of children who had blood lead levels above 5 micrograms per deciliter to only inspecting the homes of those who tested above 20 µg/dl. Though the new ordinance explicitly names 5 µg/dl as the city’s lead standard, critics say that the existing ordinance already does so via its reliance on a Centers for Disease Control standard. Furthermore, they argue that the proposed amendments actually relax the city’s existing lead standards.

On Thursday, discussion on the ordinance itself was limited to about 10 minutes at the end of the meeting, after panel members listened to a presentation about management and treatment of lead poisoning in children by representatives from Yale New Haven Hospital’s Regional Lead Treatment Center.

Hamilton opened discussion by saying that the city may “tweak” the amendments further after having had discussions with some members of the committee.

“When we’re talking about policies developed by the health director, there can be situations where the health policies would change if there was another person in the health department,” Hamilton said.  “And maybe we should include it more firmly into an ordinance.”

She said such changes would not be for procedures, but rather in making fines and penalties “a little more stiff.”

But critics of the proposed ordinance have argued that it gives too much discretion to the health department in terms of how it conducts inspections and issues abatements of homes.

At the public hearing on Sept. 12, New Haven Legal Assistance attorney Amy Marx testified that the new ordinance “guts” the city’s existing lead law by authorizing but not requiring the department of health to conduct inspections when children test with elevated levels of lead in their blood.

Others noted that the proposed amendments remove specific timelines from the current ordinance that designate when landlords must create abatement plans and begin abatements of homes discovered to be hazardous. Hamilton has said in the past that the city’s lead ordinance is not the place to write the health department’s policy into law.

Because the formalization of the committee is tied to the ordinance amendments — which the Board of Alders tabled two weeks ago — the task force is still unofficial. At Thursday’s meeting, Hamilton referred to the assembled members as an “informal group.” Though the task force meets monthly, it last convened in July, at a heated meeting in which members of the committee criticized the city for drafting the ordinance without their input.

Hamilton said that moving forward, the health department had plans to meet with region one of the Department of Housing and Urban Development and various regional housing authorities, and that groups of landlords had also expressed interest in having conversations with the department. Hamilton also raised the possibility of a tax break for landlords if they completed full abatements, though she added that such a project would require approval from other branches of city government.

Heather Reynolds, a member of the panel and both a member of New Haven’s Board of Health Commission and an associate professor at the Yale School of Nursing, told the News after the meeting that she hoped to see a little more “specificity to the process.” She said that she would “like to see the time frames again,” referring to the timelines for landlords that the proposed amendments currently remove from the law.

Karen DuBois-Walton, the executive director of the Housing Authority of New Haven, said after the meeting that she hoped the city’s ordinance would be “proactive and aggressive.”

“I think at the end of the day we all want to make sure that kids are safe,” she said.

Passage of the proposed amendments are subject to the Board of Alders’ legislation committee.

 

Talia Soglin | talia.soglin@yale.edu