By Cameron Etessami and Rachael Davis, Members of Southwest Action

A November report from the Office of the DC Auditor (ODCA) highlighted major concerns regarding lead-based paint exposure in public housing. The Report asserts that the DC Housing Authority (DCHA) largely neglected to execute proper lead abatement after hazards were noted in the mandatory lead-risk assessment. In fact, the Auditor’s office “found that as recently as October of 2017, DCHA did not know the location of lead-based paint with certainty in public housing, despite 96% of their properties being constructed before 1978 and federal law having required risk assessments to determine this by March 2002.” 

The audit by ODCA went on to highlight that DCHA was unsuccessful in addressing lead levels in a sample of housing units with residents under six years of age, an age group most at risk of developing detrimental mental and physical health problems. The finding indicates a profound and grave risk to the livelihood of young residents within the District of Columbia.

The ODCA accuses the DCHA of disregarding requirements to conduct annual lead inspections. The neglect is life-endangering as many DCHA units are in dire condition. DCHA was also found to have ignored and failed to maintain records of work orders surrounding lead-abatement in 50% of the work orders reviewed. 

A local community organizing group, Southwest Action, is well aware of the issue and recognizes the importance of lead abatement in public housing units as one of the key tenets of health and prosperity for District residents.

Members of Southwest Action strongly urge DCHA to adhere to the proper guidelines set forth by ODCA and consider it extremely reprehensible to neglect an issue as severe and widely understood as lead levels in paint. DCHA is believed to be an agency that represents and protects the people living in their housing units, not one that puts them in harm’s way. It is already known how dilapidated some of the housing units throughout the city remain. Greenleaf Gardens, located in the Southwest-Waterfront neighborhood, is one among many public housing complexes in these conditions. 

SW Action reached out to a lifelong Washingtonian and resident of Greenleaf Gardens, who agreed to speak with us on the condition of anonymity. The resident expressed several concerns with DCHA’s handling of public housing communities and its residents. The resident noted during our call that she “knows for a fact that a lot of properties tested positive for lead and mold” in recent years. She pointed to DCHAs disregard as the source of these issues, expressing that there is “still so much mold, and neglect of these properties. They do a patch job at best, and in the meantime, families are living with it.”

The resident also noted that the problems present in public housing don’t stop at lead and mold but also extend to floods and pipe backups in bathrooms – her family was victim of both in 2007. She stated that “buildings have been neglected, and from [her] perspective, the housing authority has the opportunity to profit, and they are willing to displace families and disrupt your life” – hinting at the looming fear of being displaced during the upcoming redevelopment project at Greenleaf. 

SW Action’s contact at Greenleaf Gardens further expressed that although she is no stranger to change, it’s how “you’re doing the change and treating human beings in the process of change” that matters. 

“You can’t replace community. You can’t replace people’s lives. The City is turning around and talking about equity – what about instilling equity in the places where people [already] live?” she said. 

References:

Lead (Pb) Toxicity: What Are the U.S. Standards for Lead Levels? | ATSDR – Environmental Medicine & Environmental Health Education – CSEM. (2019). Retrieved 17 January 2021, from https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/csem/csem.asp?csem=34&po=8#:~:text=In%201977%2C%20the%20Consumer%20Products,contain%20greater%20amounts%20of%20lead

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