More money for the program might be available in coming years. On July 26, the California Supreme Court ruled in favor of allowing counties and cities throughout the state to hire private law firms to represent them on a contingency basis in a multibillion-dollar class-action lawsuit. The long-running suit, originally filed in 2000 at the Superior Court of Santa Clara, asks that makers of lead-based paint, such as Sherwin-Williams and Atlantic Richfield (which includes the former Anaconda Lead Products and International Smelting and Refining companies), pay for removing lead paint from buildings.
According to Nancy Fineman, attorney for Cotchett, Pitre, and McCarthy, the private law firm representing San Diego and other cities, the ruling will likely be appealed and the lead-paint lawsuit may take many more years to litigate.
In the meantime, as the City expands the Lead Safe Neighborhoods Program, more property owners will be notified. For low-income families and the elderly on fixed incomes such as Howard, the only way to remediate the lead hazards and comply with city code is to contact the San Diego Housing Commission and apply for federal grants, loans, and redevelopment money.
Frank Ballow, rehab manager for the San Diego Housing Commission, estimates that since 2002, the housing commission has received $15.9 million in lead grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The most recent grants, awarded in 2008 and totaling $7 million, include goals of eliminating lead hazards in over 500 residential units over a three-year period.
“The lead grants offer up to $10,000 for a single family dwelling and up to $5000 per multifamily unit plus $5000 for common areas in multifamily properties for material and labor costs of lead remediation,” explains Ballow in an August 4 email.
Typically, owner-occupied properties are also eligible for deferred-payment loans to cover lead or other rehabilitation costs. However, as in Howard’s case, if lead hazards require more than $10,000 to correct and owner-occupants do not qualify for loans, a Special Circumstance Committee may authorize exceeding the $10,000 cap.
As Howard walks around the outside of his house, he rattles off the work that will be done. He points to the rotted roof, the deteriorated fascia, and the eaves that will be replaced. The back of the house will get a new vinyl window and frame.
Inside, he looks up at water stains on the ceiling and missing plaster and points to black spots of mold scattered across the walls. Workers will repair the damage and install new countertops and a new water heater.
But before work can begin, the clutter has to be moved. Howard’s so worried that he won’t be able to move his belongings out in time that he doesn’t seem concerned about the adverse health impacts from exposure to lead.
“Have I thought about getting tested for lead paint in my body? I’ve thought of it, sure,” he says. “But a lot of [my] symptoms are from old age. I don’t think I have lead poisoning, but I don’t know. I have other things to do in the next month, like try to find people willing to help move my belongings. I guess I am curious but won’t know until I get through this month. I’m looking for that pot of gold at the end of this stinking rainbow.”