LA City Lead Poisoning Prevention Pilot Program
The Los Angeles City Lead Poisoning Prevention Pilot Program is an innovative and successful project arising from a partnership between the Healthy Homes Collaborative and its member organizations, the City of Los Angeles Housing Department (LAHD) and the L.A. County Department of Public Health – Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program (CLPPP). The partnership uses a proactive city housing inspection program called the Systematic Code Enforcement Program and a state lead poisoning prevention law, known as SB 460, to provide tenants at high risk for lead poisoning with information and assistance.
The Systematic Code Enforcement Program (SCEP) began in 1999 and is enforced by the Code Enforcement Unit of the City of Los Angeles Housing Department. The program provides for multi-unit rental housing built before 1978 to be proactively inspected every two years. LAHD also has a system in place that can trigger inspections and order repairs in response to tenant complaints to the city.
The state lead poisoning law, SB 460, makes lead paint hazards a code violation and also makes unsafely performed repairs that may disturb lead-based paint a code violation. All agencies are authorized to issue a stop-work order in the event of unsafe repairs. SB 460 was enacted in 2002 and became effective January 1, 2003. The law applies to all pre-1978 residential properties and presumes that paint is lead-based unless the owner provides a lead paint inspection report or a risk assessment report to show that the paint does not contain lead.
When repairs are made to deteriorated paint, or when other repairs are made that could disturb paint, the law requires the use of lead-safe work practices and prohibits unsafe practices. SB 460 authorizes both local code enforcement agencies and local health departments to enforce the law.
The partnership between the non-profit organizations and local government was developed after advocates found that city inspectors were often unable to gain entry to homes for inspection and, when they were able to inspect, there was no effective way to ensure that violations were repaired in a lead-safe manner. The Healthy Homes Collaborative and several of its member organizations (community-based organizations, or CBOs) pressed the city code agency and the county lead program to allow their organizations to conduct home visits in advance of the city inspection in order to prepare tenants for the inspection. The CBOs employ a mix of tenant organizers and community health promoters to teach tenants how they can play a constructive role in the process and protect their own health.
Regular inspections of rental properties are scheduled 60 days in advance. The staff of the Healthy Homes Collaborative is allowed to download the inspection schedule and schedule home visits to the “worst” or most distressed properties between 30 and 60 days prior to the official code inspection. The CBO prioritizes properties to pre-visit based on several criteria: age of the property, density of units, and what the local community-based organization knows about the specific property. They also use the RISE scores assigned to the neighborhood. The Reliable Information System Evaluation (RISE) is an index that ranks buildings’ code compliance based on various factors, such as number of violations, duration of non-compliance and how far cases advanced up the chain of command before resolution. The HHC focuses on tenants whose buildings were labeled “high-risk” during the Housing Department’s last SCEP inspection cycle.
Once contact is made with tenants, the CBO staff:
- Inform the residents of the scheduled regular code inspection and the need to be home to receive the inspection.
- Assist residents to prepare for the inspection by listing defects, particularly those involving deteriorated lead paint or a problem whose repair could necessitate breaking painted surfaces.
- Educate residents about lead poisoning, lead paint, and the importance of lead-safe work practices.
- Teach residents how to recognize unsafe work practices.
- Provide residents with information about the state lead law and give them a phone number to call if repairs are done in violation of requirements for lead-safe work practices or using prohibited methods.
- Teach residents about their legal rights, especially legal protections from eviction or other retaliation, and provide information about referrals to free or low-cost legal services in the event this is needed.
- Inform residents with young children about where to have blood lead testing done and the reasons to do this.
The CBO staff also provides referrals to the city’s lead hazard control grant program when obvious lead hazards are noted and the units qualify for HUD-subsidized repairs. CBOs often provide enrollment assistance to interested property owners, and also meet with tenants to help them put together their enrollment packets. Tenants tend to feel more comfortable working with a CBO when verifying cash income and other sensitive matters. Additionally, CBO staff can meet with tenants on evenings and weekends when city staff isn’t available.
In properties pre-visited by the CBO staff, city inspectors have found that they gain entry for their official inspections about 80 percent of the time compared to 20 percent for homes not pre-visited. When repairs are ordered, The HHC has found about a 95 percent rate of compliance with safe work practices. In about 5 percent of cases, unsafe repairs are still begun. This triggers a stop-work order by the code enforcement agency and a possible $1,000 fine. The owner is given 48 hours to clean and set up proper work practices. If that order is violated, which happens in only about 1 percent of cases, a referral to CLPPP is made and the CBO staff returns to assist the tenants with any legal problems or health issues. Property owners cited by the CLPPP for violating a stop work order face a misdemeanor, a possible $5,000 fine and/or six months in jail. Additionally CLPPP has the discretion to require the owners to use Certified Abatement Contractors if the owners appear to not be motivated to use lead safe work practices.
When the Los Angeles City Lead Poisoning Prevention Pilot Program began in the fall of 2003, it covered 4 of Los Angeles’ 15 city council districts. Over the past 4 ½ years, the program has been expanded to 12 districts. New districts were often added at the request of a council member because of the program’s success.
Funding for the Healthy Homes Collaborative’s work on this project has come from the city through the HUD lead outreach grants and the Lead Hazard Remediation grants.
Currently, the program is pre-visiting 6,000 multi-unit dwellings and approximately 1,000 single-family properties per year, securing lead-safe repairs in nearly all cases. By comparison, Los Angeles’ HUD lead hazard control grant brings lead safety to just 200 properties in a three-year period.
The Healthy Homes Collaborative estimates that $5 billion dollars worth of repairs have been made to substandard rental dwellings because of the program, with property owners paying to bring units up to code. Although the City of L.A. Housing Department provides for multi-unit rental housing to be proactively inspected every two years, because of limited staffing and funding the inspection cycle is actually closer to five years – despite a doubling of the inspection force a few years ago.