Under the threat of having the housing agency held in contempt of court and its commissioner thrown in jail, the City Council has scheduled a hearing on new lead paint rules for Wednesday, one day before the session ends. There’s only one problem: Nobody thinks the new regulations can be enforced, and the hearing might simply mean that, in the end, New York City still won’t have an effective lead paint policy.
Lead paint can cause serious brain damage in children, but the city has never enforced a tough 1982 law that would force landlords to deal with lead paint problems in their buildings. Last year, a state Supreme Court judge demanded that the city start enforcing the laws, or be held in contempt.
In response, the city drafted the regulations that will be heard in council this week. The strict agency rules, which follow the 1982 law to the letter, require landlords to remove all traces of lead paint, a mammoth job that can cost thousands of dollars per apartment. Unless the council passes a new law, the rules will go into effect in January.
Some children’s advocates–and some council members–claim that the hearing is really just a chance for conservative housing committee chair Archie Spigner to use the threat of these unenforceable rules to introduce more landlord- friendly legislation. In the past, Spigner has sponsored bills designed to eliminate or weaken the original lead paint law.
“I’m worried that suddenly things are moving very quickly and that a deal is being struck between the council’s leadership and the landlords,” said Megan Charlop, director of the Lead Poisoning Prevention Project. “Everyone knows these regs aren’t going to be enforced. But what are they going to do [instead]?”
Council environmental committee chair Stanley Michels introduced a more moderate lead paint bill earlier this year, but it has yet to get a hearing. He fears that back-door negotiations before this week’s hearing will lead to a last-minute bill that won’t cure New York’s lead paint problem. “The mayor is threatening legislation, and maybe Spigner has legislation,” he said. “Everyone is scurrying around trying to get legislation out.”
But council Assistant Counsel Kathy Cudahy dismissed these charges. She said that the hearing was simply a chance for members to get a look at the new regulations, and that any council response wouldn’t happen until well after the hearing–when the council reconvenes in January. “I’m not sitting here writing any legislation,” she said. “I’m not holding my breath.”