Holyoke nonprofit’s challenge to lead paint law can be taken to court

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SPRINGFIELD – A federal judge has ruled that a lawsuit from a local fair-trade housing center can be brought against the state because of its law requiring landlords to reduce the risk of lead paint in their homes only when children under six live there.

In 2019, the Holyoke-based Massachusetts Fair Housing Center sued the state over its 1971 Lead Poisoning Prevention and Control Act, arguing the law urged homeowners to discriminate against families with children rather than reducing lead paint in their buildings. U.S. District Court Judge Mark Mastroianni on Wednesday refuse the state’s request to dismiss the case, allowing the case to go to trial.

“What we hope is that we are taking an important step towards ending a policy which for the past 50 years has harmed families with children under six,” said Meris Bergquist, executive director of the fair housing center, in a telephone interview. Friday.

Efforts to reach the attorney representing the three defendants in the case – Department of Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel, Massachusetts Bureau of Environmental Health Director Jana Ferguson and Director of the Poisoning Prevention Program in Terry Howard kids – failed Friday.

In its lawsuit, the Massachusetts Fair Housing Center argues that the main state law, which sought to get landlords to gradually reduce the state’s housing stock, resulted in housing discrimination against households with children while minimizing the risk of lead paint. They argued that the state’s main law violated the 1988 Federal Fair Housing Act, which prohibited housing discrimination against families with minor children.

Two families who say they have been discriminated against in housing because of the main law are also complainants in the case.

One of the plaintiffs is a couple who say they were renting an apartment in Northampton when they got pregnant in 2018. The owner allegedly made them leave the apartment the day after they were informed. The lawsuit alleges the couple spoke to the new tenant of their old apartment who said the landlord admitted she asked them to move out “because she did not have a lead certificate and did not want to sell the property. ‘apartment”.

The main law was updated in 1987 to add wording that said a landlord could not comply with the law by discriminating against families with young children. Complainants, however, say there is no evidence that this language has reduced discrimination in rental housing or increased the reduction in lead paint.

The law was again amended in 2011 to add a provision allowing landlords to delay occupancy of a rental unit for 30 days to transfer a property when a child under the age of 6 moves into the home.

A 2016 to study by the state’s Department of Public Health found that homeowners had only reported deceptive work in about 10% of the state’s housing stock prior to 1978. Lead paint was banned in residential paint in 1978. Massachusetts has the fourth oldest housing stock in the country, according to the department.

As an example of how the law could be improved, complainants cite other regions that have adopted universal lead reduction policies. The Philadelphia City Council, for example, passed an amendment in 2019 to its lead poisoning prevention law that requires all owners of homes built before 1978 to reduce lead paint in order to receive a rental permit.

In a press release, the Massachusetts Fair Housing Center noted that a bill pending before the state legislature would require whistleblowing of all rental properties in the state, starting with communities suffering from the rates. the highest levels of lead poisoning in children.

Locally, the DPH in 2017 identified Holyoke, Chicopee and Springfield as communities at high risk for lead poisoning in children. In Northampton, 2000 census data showed that about 85% of the city’s housing stock was built before 1978.

The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has concluded that there is no safe level of exposure to lead, which can have serious and permanent effects on a child’s mental and physical development.

Dusty Christensen can be contacted at [email protected]


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