In an audit released late last month, the inspector general for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) reported that a southern Illinois housing authority failed to test for and safely remedy lead-based paint, while also allowing residents to live in units with little heat, and mold, rat, and roach infestations. The agency’s own investigative division also said that HUD has been aware of the problems since 2010 and failed to intervene for fear of bringing unwanted attention upon themselves.
With 109 housing authorities in the state of Illinois and HUD’s own inspector general calling out their inadequacy, many are wondering whom else the agency is failing to protect.
Housing Authority Discriminated Against Black Residents, Employees
The Alexander County Housing Authority (ACHA), who oversees affordable housing units in Cairo, Illinois, our state’s southernmost city, was forced to hand over control to HUD in February 2016. The two units that were the focus of the investigation, Elmwood and McBride, were both closed in 2017 and residents were given vouchers to secure private housing. Cairo, a town of about 2,400, had very few other housing options, sending many of the 400 residents to neighboring towns.
Elmwood and McBride weren’t the only complexes overseen by the ACHA, but they were in the worst condition. Coincidentally, these two complexes housed mostly black residents, noteworthy considering that mixed race complexes run by the Housing Authority were not found to be in as poor of condition. In 2014, a HUD internal investigation found that black AHCA employees were paid less than their white co-workers to do the same, or even more work, proving a culture of discrimination was clearly in play within the organization.
In the nearly 30 page audit by the inspector general of HUD, the agency is called out for nearly 8 years of inaction. Among other evidence, the audit revealed that the agency was aware that funding was being misused, that living conditions in general had deteriorated, that testing for lead-based paint and other safety measures were not being followed, and that black employees were being paid unfairly.
Illinois Senators Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin have both called on HUD to come up with policies that will prevent this sort of oversight from happening again.
Housing Authorities Rarely Test for and Remedy Units with Lead-Based Paint
If you’ve ever rented an older apartment or home in Illinois, you’ve probably signed a lead-based paint disclosure as part of your rental packet. The state requires all landlords renting a home or unit built before 1978 to include the form, requiring your signature to acknowledge that you have been notified of the risk of lead-based paint in your home. The same disclosure of information if intended to be given to Illinois residents who live in a complex run by a housing authority. HUD requires housing authorities to report that they have inspected their housing units for lead each year, but as of February 2018, less than 1/2 of the country’s 7,000 public housing developments had submitted lead inspection results.
Last month, New York City revealed that its own housing authority, Nycha, was falsely submitting lead inspection reports to HUD from 2012-2018, discovered only when 820 children under the age of 6 were found to have elevated levels of lead in their blood. The housing authority has admitted to finding lead-based paint and not taking steps to notify resident or safely remove it.
In Portsmouth, Virginia, a mother is suing her housing authority after her then 3-year-old son was sickened after eating paint chips he saw on the floor. The mother said he experienced a high fever, bloody stools, and hallucinations. The family lived in a complex built in 1941.
Lead-Based Paint Exposure: What are the Symptoms and Complications?
Many know that lead-based paint is toxic, but are unfamiliar with the symptoms and complications arising from lead poisoning. For those of us with small children, you may remember your child receiving a finger prick to test the level of lead in their blood at their one and two year check-up. This is the current recommendation by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the organization widely considered the leading voice on pediatric health. Exposure to lead is particularly worrisome for pregnant women and children, as exposure can cause lifelong complications.
According to the CDC, there is no safe level of lead in the blood. Currently the CDC advises medical providers to judge the level of lead in children 5 and under based off the top 2.5% of those tested. There used to be a hard number of 10 micrograms per deciliter as the level in which to begin chelation therapy, the treatment that removes lead from the blood.
Per the Mayo Clinic, the symptoms of lead exposure in children are:
- Developmental delay
- Learning difficulties
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Sluggishness and fatigue
- Abdominal pain
- Hearing loss
- Eating things, such as paint chips, that aren’t food (pica)
The main complication from lead exposure is brain damage to children. Children who have lead poisoning are at risk for intellectual and behavioral difficulties. In addition to exposure to lead-based paint, children are at risk of putting furniture (cribs, particularly) and toys in their mouth that have been treated with lead paint or chemicals and by drinking water or consuming foods cooked with water from lead pipes.
Toxic Exposure? Levin & Perconti Can Help
The Illinois Department of Public Health says that 75% of Illinois homes have lead-based paint. For any dwelling built before 1978, the odds are great that at some point, lead-based paint was used. The responsibility of landlords is to disclose this possibility. The responsibility of housing authorities receiving federal funding from HUD is to not only annually test for lead-based paint, but to notify tenants if the lead-based paint is present.
Under an area of law referred to as premise liability, a landlord or building owner has a responsibility to notify you of the risk of exposure to lead, mold, asbestos, or other harmful agents. If their failure to do so has caused you harm, call the personal injury attorneys of Chicago’s Levin & Perconti now for a FREE consultation. For nearly 30 years, our attorneys have forced individuals and companies to take responsibility for injuries their negligence has caused.
Call us toll-free at 1-877-374-1412, in Chicago at (312) 332-2872 or complete our online case evaluation form. You have nothing to lose: we are not paid unless we recover money for you.