de Blasio knew of NYCHA false lead certifications, as private landlords escape scrutiny

The lead exposure crisis


Following a report that Mayor Bill de Blasio (D-New York City) was aware in 2016 that the New York City Housing Authority, or NYCHA, was falsely certifying its compliance with lead inspections, political fallout has appeared to center on whether the public would pressure Mayor de Blasio to remove NYCHA CEO Shola Olatoye from her post. Public outcry erupted after reports showed that children living in New York City have tested positive for blood lead levels at rates at, or higher than, children living in the lead-contaminated, water crisis-afflicted municipality of Flint, MI. Press reports have concentrated on the likely role of NYCHA in exposing children to lead.

It has been widely reported that NYCHA has an estimated capital improvement budget deficit of $17 billion, a financial situation that makes it impossible for the public housing authority to address major hazards to habitability. For example, NYCHA is subject to the oversight of a special master in a class-action mold remediation case, due to its inability to timely remove toxic mold and mildew from its public housing developments.

In the face of larger issues over habitability, NYCHA disclosed last year that a health study was used as a proxy to measure the blood levels of children, who reside in public housing. That health study showed that 6,800 children tested positive for elevated blood levels of lead. Of that subset, 202 children lived in NYCHA apartment buildings. Of that further subset, upon further testing, NYCHA determined that 18 NYCHA residences presented with elevated lead levels. “Those issues were immediately abated, and those homes are now lead-free,” NYCHA CEO Olatoye testified.In testimony before New York City Council, indicating that the exposure to lead was not a major concern. Contrary to NYCHA's representations, by the time of her testimony, Federal lawyers had launched a probe into the physical condition standards of NYCHA's public housing developments, with a particular focus on the exposure to lead, and the risk of exposure to lead, to children.

Despite evidence to the contrary about the full extent of NYCHA's inability to remediate hazards from its public housing developments and controversy over NYCHA's statistics about children's exposure to lead, if NYCHA has been being honest about not exposing many children to lead, then that means that some of the children's exposure to lead may be taking place in privately-owned dwellings. Using the proxy health study as a guide, if only 202 children of the 6,800 children, who tested positive for elevated blood lead levels, lived in public housing, then that means that approximately 6,600 children lived in private housing. Since Mayor de Blasio has defended NYCHA CEO Olatoye from calls for her resignation, he has, at the same time, not raised any questions about the possibility that private landlords may be responsible for exposing children to lead.

It is not known whether City officials will investigate whether private landlords are responsible for exposing children to lead. For this report, a press officer for the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development denied a request to interview Commissioner Maria Torres-Springer, and the press office for City Hall denied a request to interview Mayor de Blasio.

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