Attacking the Lead Paint Crisis

February 02, 1994

The time has come to attack Maryland's lead-poisoning crisis. The economic effects of that crisis are as obvious as auction ads in your Sunday newspaper. Week after week, dozens of inner-city investment properties containing lead paint are advertised for sale because their owners no longer can get liability insurance or financing for them.

Most of them do not find a purchaser, even though these properties would sell for next to nothing. Instead they are boarded up and added to the spiraling number of abandoned rowhouses that threaten the stability of once-vibrant neighborhoods and decrease the pool of affordable housing available to low-income families.

Meanwhile, nearly 3,000 Maryland children were found to have elevated levels of lead in their blood last year. Most of them live in Baltimore; that's where the bulk of the state's pre-1950s houses are. And while many of these children come from low-income renter families, many middle- and upper-middle income families from Roland Park to Ruxton also live with unabated lead paint in their older homes.

Being a landlord is a high-risk proposition these days. Many have been hit with substantial lawsuits by families alleging that their children became poisoned while living in a house with lead paint. Others fear lawsuits and either insist that renters have their children tested for pre-existing lead levels -- or they refuse to rent to families altogether.

After long and arduous debates, the Governor's Lead Paint Poisoning Commission recently recommended a number of measures that would reduce lead poisoning and preserve low-income rental housing in Maryland.

A draft bill recommended by the commission has now been introduced in the House of Delegates. The governor's version has been introduced in the Senate. Under those proposals, insurance companies would be required to sell landlords liability insurance against lead poisoning as long as they have their properties inspected and repaired. If a child is found to have an elevated lead level, a complying landlord's personal liability would be limited to uncovered medical expenses.

These recommendations offer the basis for legislative efforts to end Maryland's lead-paint poisoning crisis. We urge legislators to make this a priority issue in Annapolis. Otherwise much of the supply of direly needed low-income housing may be threatened.

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