Sunday, November 4, 2007

On getting the lead out:

I’m looking for an apartment for myself and my 3 year-old son. In the great state of Massachusetts, we have a lead law that says if a landlord rents to a family with a child under 6 years old, s/he must delead the apartment. This seems like it can only be a good thing but turns out to be a double-edged sword. It’s expensive to delead, so landlords—being in business to make money, or at least to cover costs-- find ways to refuse renting to people with young kids if they don’t want to delead. This is discrimination and is technically illegal, but unenforceable since no one can say a landlord didn’t have another legitimate reason.

And realtors are complicit because they don’t even want to waste their time showing tenants with young children apartments that aren’t deleaded, making it that much easier for landlords to avoid facing the issue.

Some landlords seem to have plenty of money to do extensive renovations to make their units able to demand more rent, but they don’t go the extra mile to delead. So deleaded apartments are rare and in high demand. Having also cost a substantial sum to be deleaded, they are not surprisingly, more expensive than non deleaded apartments with the same features in the same areas.

A law that must have been intended to help families with young children ends up reducing drastically their choices in housing and increasing their costs.

There must be another way.

When we as a society realized that it was completely unfair that many buildings were inaccessible to the significant segment of the population with disabilities, we didn’t make a law that made it voluntary for building owners to add ramps and elevators. We made a law—the Americans with Disabilities Act-- that required that buildings be changed. It wasn’t overly onerous. Some buildings didn’t have to be changed right away, but when major renovations were to be done, they had to include measures to bring accessibility in accordance with the law. The effectiveness of the (decidedly non voluntary) ADA is apparent all over our built environment (lower light switches and door handles among other details). At my alma mater, venerable old buildings now have wheelchair ramps artfully designed to blend with 19th century architecture. Ramps have become an integral part of today’s new buildings and it’s a good thing.

There must be at least as many families with young children as there are people with disabilities, and the lead issue really is a matter of accessibility too.

We need a law that-- either now or over a reasonable period of time (maybe 15 years)-- actually solves the problem of toxic lead in homes and makes affordably-priced, safe apartments accessible for families like mine.


jessica said...

what gets me about the attempts to regulate toxic substances is the peculiarities of the laws, such as this. to me, if something isn't safe for children then it isn't safe for me either. or my pet or my great uncle or my postman. just because i can tolerate higher levels doesn't mean i should. it just means it will take longer to find out i'm sick.

i'm sorry this process is a difficult one for you. i hope things turn out well for you and your little guy...

soothsayer said...

You are so right. It's just like mercury in flu vaccine or tuna fish. No amount of poison is an "acceptable level!"

Thanks Jessica. It's looking like it will work out...