Sam Allard / Scene
Rebecca Maurer explains the CLASH lead legislation, (2/4/19).
Cleveland Lead Advocates for Safe Housing (CLASH) this morning announced the specifics of a substantive piece of legislation that the group will pursue via ballot initiative in November if Cleveland City Council doesn’t vote to enact it before then.
The legislation is an updated, enhanced version of a 2017 bill that former Cleveland city councilman Jeff Johnson introduced during his mayoral campaign. It would make landlords responsible for certifying that their rental properties are lead-safe.
CLASH includes members from seven local organizations: Cleveland Lead Safe Network (CLSN), the Single Payer Access Network (SPAN), the Cuyahoga County Progressive Caucus, Black Lives Matter Cuyahoga County, Cleveland End Poverty Now Coalition, Organize Ohio, and the Cleveland Democratic Socialists of America (DSA).
At a press conference, representatives from the above said that they have had extensive conversations with lead experts, community health officials and legislators from other cities for the past several years. Their bill is the culmination of those efforts. And while they said they are eager to work in conjunction with, not in opposition to, the public-private Lead Safe Coalition formed last month, they reaffirmed that the lead crisis is “dire” and urgent action is necessary. Waiting for City Hall is no longer an option, in their view, when four Cleveland children are diagnosed with lead poisoning every day.
Attorney Rebecca Maurer, co-author of the 2017 legislation (990-17) and architect of the current version’s updates, explained that the bill is built upon three pillars.
The first is that the “lead-safe” standard should be integrated into the city’s rental registry program and healthy homes initiative. Maurer said that the lead-safe status of a home should become part of everyday conversations between tenants and landlords, and that this information should be required on apartment listings.
“You would never rent a home without knowing who was paying for utilities,” she said. “You would never rent a home without knowing what day the rent was due. Lead-safe status should be a part of those same conversations.”
She said that while penalties could ultimately be enforced for negligent landlords, these were intended as “backstop” measures. The legislation is designed to be “positive and incentive-based.” To that end, the second pillar creates a fund, supported ideally by both public and private dollars, to which landlords could apply to pay for lead testing and, if necessary, abatement. Maurer stressed that these costs were often minimal, $300-$500 for lead testing and as little as $300 for abatements.
The third pillar is the incorporation of tenant protections. Maurer said that in other cities, this turned out to be less of a problem than many feared, but that the bill would provide options for tenants in the event of abatement. Tenants would be able to terminate their lease agreement, pay a prorated rental rate, or obtain alternative housing provided by the landlord during the period when a unit is being lead-abated.
Councilman Jeff Johnson, returning to the forceful rhetoric he often uncorked at Monday night council meetings, said that while some consider the bill “aggressive,” aggressive action is required. And if council isn’t ready to commit, “we’ll go to the streets.”
He said that the next step will be delivering packets to all 17 city councilpeople and meeting one-on-one with representatives from council and the Mayor’s administration. Johnson and others repeated that they were hopeful council would welcome the legislation, viewing it correctly as the culmination of years of research and collaboration, but that if it came to it, gathering signatures would not be a problem.
“In all our conversations,” said Steve Holecko, political director of the Cuyahoga County Progressive Caucus, “we never had any doubt about getting the signatures.”
If a ballot initiative proves necessary, CLASH will aim for 10,000 signatures at a minimum — double the required 5,000 — and will use the seven member organizations and their networks to begin a grassroots organizing effort. (“Some of us have been here before,” Johnson reminded the press.)
Speaking on behalf of the Progressive Caucus, Holecko said he knew his members were eager to begin that critical door-to-door work. Cleveland DSA, too, has made housing rights an important tenet of their recent local advocacy.
“In 2016, the citizens of Cleveland spoke when they felt they should decide if Cleveland should have a $15 minimum wage. In 2017, the citizens of Cleveland spoke when they felt that the $88 million should not be spent on the Quicken Loans renovation project. It is our hope that Cleveland City Council looks at the legislation we’re presenting here today and as soon as possible passes it,” Holecko said. “However, if that does not occur, we are very very confident that the citizens of Cleveland will speak again.”
Johnson added that the creation of CLASH itself was fueled organically by agitation in the community and the conviction by all the constituent groups that solving the lead crisis was a moral imperative.
“You look around this room and there’s not a lot of deep pockets,” he said. “But there’s a lot of energy.”
Later Monday, City Council is slated to pass
a piece of lead-related legislation of its own. It's an emergency resolution — lol — “re-affirming this Council’s and the City’s commitment to addressing childhood lead poisoning and supporting the formation of the Lead Safe Cleveland Coalition to confront lead poisoning in the City and to effectively advance lead safe efforts through implementation of a Lead Safe Solution.”
Given that CLASH is releasing 28 pages of thoroughly researched actual law on the same day, council’s nothingburger resolution is illustrative of why the advocacy group is so impatient, and why a ballot initiative may be necessary.