The Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority has been ignoring complaints from tenants for years about the lead paint that coats the interior of many older units. A source inside the housing authority speculates that as many as 1,200 of the agency’s approximately 4,200 units may still be exposing tenants to lead paint.
Last August, a young Somali family had complained for months about chipped paint in the apartment. Their pleas to housing authority staff and executive administrators fell on deaf ears. Both infant children in the home — ages 5 months and 18 months — tested positive for lead poisoning. The family was forced to vacate the unit and lost their security deposit.
When they called housing commissioner Joe Mascia, the young couple had already left the apartment. When Mascia called the authority’s executive office to demand answers about the looming public health threat, the administrators had the unit immediately padlocked. Administrators refused to take calls from reporters.
Since the executive office was notified about the lead paint risk in August, the authority has refused to respond in any meaningful way and has not issued a public notice of the health risk to tenants.
Critics have demanded that the authority inventory which units present the most severe exposure to lead paint, and develop a plan that will mitigate the risk in the short term and eliminate the risk in the medium term.
If your home was built before 1978, there is a good chance it has lead-based paint. In 1978, the federal government banned consumer uses of lead-containing paint, but some states banned it even earlier. Lead from paint, including lead-contaminated dust, is one of the most common causes of lead poisoning.
Lead paint is still present in millions of homes, sometimes under layers of newer paint. If the paint is in good shape, the lead paint is usually not a problem. Deteriorating lead-based paint (peeling, chipping, chalking, cracking, damaged, or damp) is a hazard and needs immediate attention.
It may also be a hazard when found on surfaces that children can chew or that get a lot of wear-and-tear, such as: windows and window sills; doors and door frames; stairs, railings, banisters, and porches.
At the same time, the BMHA’s executive director is pushing for a policy change that would ban smoking in all units — which has outraged residents.
“The feigned premise of this being about public health is offensive considering the lead paint that they have the nerve to ignore,” says one tenant. “It’s smoke and mirrors to distract you from outrageous levels of mismanagement.”
Political observers expect that the upcoming election for city housing commissioner will be a referendum on the Brown Administration’s public housing policies. Activists have been calling for management changes and governance reforms at the authority.
The publisher of The Chronicle has called for reforms that would make all seven seats on the authority’s board of commissioners elected rather than appointed positions. The Mayor, who is unlikely to yield control of the authority, has yet to endorse the plan.