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YMHA settles tenants' suit over lead abatement



Published: Mon, September 17, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



YMHA will keep better tabs on defective paint problems in its housing units.

By BOB JACKSON

VINDICATOR COURTHOUSE REPORTER

YOUNGSTOWN -- A lawsuit that sprang from local children's being exposed to lead in low-income housing units could be wrapped up Tuesday.

Two city women, Latonya Franklin and Lakisha Gibbs, sued the Youngstown Metropolitan Housing Authority in 1999, alleging that it does not comply with federal laws designed to protect children from lead poisoning.

The women lived in Section 8 rental units administered by YMHA. Their children developed high levels of lead in their blood because of exposure to "defective paint" in their homes, said Atty. Edward Miller of Pittsburgh, who represents them.

Lead is highly toxic, especially to children, and affects nearly every system of the body, said Gary Singer, Mahoning County lead prevention coordinator. It can cause reduced intelligence, attention span and other learning disabilities and behavioral problems.

Exposure to lead-based paint in houses is responsible for most cases of lead poisoning, Singer said.

Section 8 housing is for low-income families, said Eugenia Atkinson, YMHA executive director. Tenants' rent is based on their income and ability to pay. The federal government subsidizes the rest with funding administered through YMHA.

The homes are privately owned by landlords who agree to comply with federal regulations for the low-income program, Atkinson said.

Cites federal law: Miller said that under federal law, all Section 8 homes built before 1978 that are inhabited by children under 6 must be free of chipping, flaking or peeling paint. That's because the paint in those homes generally contained lead, which children could get on their hands and ingest, leading to lead poisoning.

The suit said that YMHA did not comply with its obligation to see that homes were properly inspected. In some cases, inspections were done but the homes were passed even though there was defective paint, Miller said.

Franklin and Gibbs asked that YMHA be forced to create a fund to pay for monitoring lead levels of children who live in YMHA's Section 8 units. Both women have moved out of their YMHA homes since the suit was filed.

Settlement: The sides have reached an agreement to settle the matter without a trial. It will not require the agency to set up a medical monitoring fund, although YMHA does agree to comply with the inspection requirements, Miller said.

If defective paint is found, YMHA will issue a notice to the landlord outlining proper procedures for addressing the problem, follow up to ensure that the problem is abated.

In exchange, the plaintiffs dropped their request for the medical monitoring fund. They won't get any money out of the settlement, Miller said.

"This is completely an injunctive remedy," he said. "The housing authority stepped up to the plate and did the right thing here."

A hearing will be Tuesday before Judge Peter C. Economus of U.S. District Court, Youngstown, to approve the proposed settlement.

YMHA statement: Atkinson and YMHA's attorney, Laura K. Hong of Cleveland, said the fact that the housing agency settled doesn't mean it's admitting wrongdoing. In fact, the agency denies all liability in the case.

"The settlement is to get the case out of the way and move on," Hong said, noting that YMHA did not agree to the medical monitoring fund.

"The housing authority is in the business of providing decent and safe housing," Hong said. "It is not in the business of providing medical care."

Atkinson said she hopes the settlement is approved and the agency can put the suit behind it. She also hopes it prevents more children from developing high lead levels.

"You don't want to expose anyone to anything like that," she said. "Especially children."

Miller said the settlement will involve hundreds of properties in the city, though neither he nor Atkinson knew exactly how many.

bjackson@vindy.com




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