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Monday, May 20, 2019

CLASH, Realtors Present Ordinances and Objections to Cleveland City Council

Posted By on Mon, May 20, 2019 at 1:08 PM

click to enlarge CLASH (LOGO)
  • CLASH (Logo)

Armed with 33 recommendations from the Lead Safe Cleveland Coalition's policy committee, Cleveland City Council is now in the midst of crafting legislation to combat the city's lead poisoning crisis.

Council looks unlikely to complete a draft before their summer recess begins in June, but they appear to be making an effort to hear from multiple groups in order to strengthen the ordinance that will emerge.  Monday, the Health and Human Services Committee heard from two groups who have opposed, for various reasons, the Lead Safe Cleveland Coalition (LSCC) recommendations.

Representatives from Cleveland Lead Advocates for Safe Housing (CLASH) and the Akron Cleveland Association of Realtors (ACAR) explained why they "opted-out" of the full recommendation list.

Both groups presented alternative ordinances. In CLASH's case, the lead-safe ordinance was the subject of a recent ballot initiative. The local activist coalition gathered more than 10,000 signatures to put their ordinance on the November ballot. Petitions were rejected, however, due to missing language required by state law.

ACAR's proposed legislation was a "model ordinance" prepared by lawyers for the National Association of Realtors. The local representatives said the law would be "fair to all parties," (but fairest of all to local property owners!) 

Attorney Rebecca Maurer outlined the CLASH ordinance and, alongside CLASH members Jeff Johnson, Spencer Wells, Yvonka Hall and Derrick Wade, answered questions from the committee.

Maurer represented CLASH on the LSCC policy committee. She reiterated points she'd made in an "opt-out" letter explaining why she ultimately couldn't support the full recommendation list. Most importantly, she felt that daycare centers should be subject to a lead-safe mandate and that a public advisory board should be created to provide transparency and accountability. Furthermore, CLASH has proposed civil and criminal penalties for non-compliant landlords and incorporated key tenant protections into their ordinance. (You can read Maurer's opt-out letter here.

Maurer said, finally, that it was critical to change the culture and conversation around lead in Cleveland so that the lead-safe status of residential units would be as much a part of the rental conversation as rent and utilities. 

Jeff Johnson said, for the record, that CLASH was "absolutely in support" of the Lead Safe Cleveland Coalition, and even though they felt that certain recommendations did not go far enough, he stressed that Cleveland needed to come together to solve the lead crisis. He also cautioned against paying too much deference to landlords.

"The attitude that removing poison is anti-landlord, City Hall must end that," he said. "The real estate industry needs to know that CLASH is not seeking an antagonistic relationship, but we can't afford not to find a solution." 

Representatives for ACAR said that their two primary objections to the LSCC recommendations had to do with a provision that would make "Source of Income" a protected tenant class and a two-year ramp-up timeline, which they said is "unrealistic and unnecessarily short." 

The source of income recommendation deals chiefly with tenants who receive federal assistance via the Housing Choice Voucher Program (commonly known as Section 8). ACAR Chief Operating Officer Mike Valerino said a lead ordinance was an inappropriate vehicle for addressing discrimination based on Source of Income.

Former city councilman John Lynch, sitting with the ACAR reps, went even further. He said that he owned three rental properties and rented to Section 8 tenants  — "great people" — and that he, personally, had never witnessed any racial discrimination as a result of a landlord's right to deny housing based on source of income.

"They're entitled to do that," Lynch said, when Council President Kevin Kelley said that he'd seen advertisements for units that specifically said 'NO Section 8.'

Mike Valerino and former ACAR President Seth Task said that they wanted the same end goal as everyone — a lead-safe housing stock — but cautioned that an unsuccessful program would lead to further disinvestment.

If the application process for lead-safe or lead-free certificates was "too arduous" for landlords, for example, property owners would abandon their properties or sell them at lower values, precipitating "a long period of blight." They recommended a feasibility study to determine the program's costs and existing capacity and said that their association would be delighted to help conduct it or help pay for it. 

Councilman Kerry McCormack reminded the presenters of the lead crisis's human toll. He echoed Councilman Blaine Griffin's repeated calls for urgency and said that council mustn't let implementation questions lead to "stalling and inaction."

"I don't want to play down idea that this is going to cost a lot of money," he said. "But these are babies. These are children. If this were happening in Westlake, I think this conversation would be a different. Are there real questions? Absolutely. And we've got to figure them out. But let's not lose touch with the with fact that there are babies today being poisoned by lead. A feasibility study, quite frankly, is an insult. Whether this is feasible is not a question."

ACAR said they agreed "100 percent," and said the question of feasibility was not about whether a lead plan was feasible, but rather how to implement it feasibly.

Council President Kevin Kelley acknowledged the tension between effectiveness and enforceability, and said he was confident that council would continue to delve into that question as the legislation is crafted.

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