An Open Letter to HUD

Lead Hazard Program: Dangerous to Children

Two cottages on a single lot which I own jointly with my husband, were included in San Francisco’s HUD-funded Lead Hazard Program. The near-unhabitable condition of one of the cottages was apparent to anyone. Yet San Francisco Lead Hazard Program filed a doctored clearance form (which stated that lead hazards were detected) with California’s Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Branch (CLPPB), and notified the tenants (including a wheelchair-dependent senior and her grandchild) that all lead hazard reduction activities were finished and that the house could be safely occupied. The CLPPB accepted the late filed doctored clearance form for my property (and others) and HUD simply accepted the City’s accounting of these two cottages (and other units) as cleared as a matter of fact.

It’s unfortunate that San Francisco has made HUD’s continued financing a priority over the health and well-being of the children who are the intended beneficiaries of these funds.”

A subsequent licensed, 3rd party assessment of my property indicated that San Francisco’s Lead Hazard Program had not complied with mandatory State and Federal law resulting in:inside HUD abated home

• the failure to identify all hazards,

• the generation of a deficient scope of work,

• the failure to clear identified hazards,

• additional contamination due to lack of containment during demolition using a back hoe, and

• in addition, the Scope of Work had not been completed because the required soil abatement had not been performed and re-occupancy occurred prior to clearance of known lead-based paint hazards.

As of today, significant elements of the scope of work for my property remain incomplete, including the abatement of lead-based paint hazards from the outdoor play areas around the cottages, which tested out at over 4000 ppm for the presence of lead (and that was before the rear portion of one of the cottages was removed via back hoe, without the requisite containment). SF’s Lead Hazard Program expended over $40K of HUD Lead Hazard Reduction grant funding to leave my property in this condition.

While HUD contractually requires SF’s Lead Hazard Program to conduct its activities in compliance with all applicable State and Federal law, San Francisco has successfully argued that its Lead Hazard Program is not contractually obligated to homeowners/tenants and their children to render homes safe from lead-based paint hazards. According to the City Attorney, the program only needs to complete lead hazard reduction activities to “its satisfaction” and to file a clearance form, in order to comply with its agreements with homeowners.

The photos above document what San Francisco considers to be completion to “its satisfaction”. If this is how SF’s Lead Hazard Program operates, it is unknown how many of the +1000 homes that were already classified as cleared are actually safe for children to occupy.

Recently the Mayor’s Office of Housing submitted yet another grant proposal requesting an additional $3million for its Lead Hazard Program from HUDs 2013 Lead Hazard Reduction Demonstration Grant Program. According to HUD, this funding, “…assists states, Native American Tribes, cities, counties/parishes, or other units of local government to identify and eliminate (emphasis added) lead-based paint hazards in low - and very low - income private housing where children under 6 years of age reside or are likely to reside”.

HUD has been routinely funding our Lead Hazard Program since 1993, and already provided tens of millions of Federal dollars to be used:

“…to provide safe and healthy homes for at-risk families and children…”

“…on making homes safer for children and families to live…”

More than once, the program was in danger of losing funding for failing to clear homes in a timely fashion. Circumventing the law may have been just one of the ways the program was able catch up with its commitment to clearing homes within a specified timeframe. It’s unfortunate that San Francisco has made HUD’s continued financing a priority over the health and well-being of the children who are the intended beneficiaries of these funds.

To say that San Francisco’s Lead Hazard Program has been plagued with problems (+1million in missing funding, long-term use of doctored clearance forms, use of unlicensed contractors, etc.) is an understatement. These problems, however, would be inconsequential to families with children if the program had at least rendered homes safe from lead-based paint poisoning hazards as defined by law; without this, any accomplishments touted by the program are meaningless.

San Francisco’s approach to lead-based paint hazard remediation is clearly not consistent with the terms and conditions of the millions of tax-dollars the Program has received from HUD so far, and certainly fails to meet the stated goals of the Federal program.

Because HUD, the EPA, and the CLPPB are either unwilling or unable to enforce its laws and San Francisco has established a standard for clearance much, much lower than that required by law,

• continued funding of this program must cease,

• all existing funding should be frozen and

• the program’s most recent request for funding should be turned down.

Furthermore before funds are released or rewarded, measures must be taken to assure that:

• all the previously cleared homes are indeed safe from lead-based paint poisoning hazards as required by law and

• the City’s future contracts with homeowners provide for this as well, meaning that contractual obligations between the City and homeowners, must contain a statement requiring the City to comply with any and all applicable State and Federal laws regarding Lead-Based Paint Hazard Remediation.

I think HUD will agree that the risk to children is simply too great to allow things to continue as they have.

Rita O’Flynn is a professional writer and researcher, and a former Federal employee. She is an Open Government Activist, and a member of San Franciscans for Sunshine and the Society for Professional Journalists. Ms. O’Flynn is pursuing litigation against the City to mandate compliance with the law so that the children of San Francisco can be safe from the harmful effects of lead-based paint poisoning. You may contact her at rita_august@msn.com.

May 2013