Health Dangers of Melrose Housing in the Bronx

This article is part of our larger investigation to highlight lead exposure issues across the nation.

It’s no secret that African Americans are at greater risk of various types of health threats than the typically more wealthy white American counterpart, and it’s been shown time and time again.

Inner city schools, that historically have larger African American populations than suburban ones are continuously shown to have problems such as significant exposure to lead paint and the many consequences that stem from it. Structural issues and the way that FEMA handled Hurricane Katrina has additionally been shown to be more likely to affect the African American community in New Orleans.

The fact of the matter is that before we address these underlying racial tendencies in society, the sooner we can avoid the unnecessary lead exposure to people, and especially kids who are more at risk.

Melrose Housing isn’t alone

Melrose housing in the Bronx isn’t alone at being a hub for the potential lead exposure to low-income families, but it is a very well-reported case, why we have chosen to highlight it.

The sad thing about the matter is that the NYC authorities are very aware of the vast amount of problems in the area, yet the problems continue to persist.

Here are a bunch of relevant articles to show what has been done to address the known issue in the Bronx, along with the relevant news articles:

  • November 20, 2017 – NY Daily News publishes an article about Sixto Martinez, a man who lives in Melrose Houses with his family, and it is exposed that damaged paint can easily be found, although NYCHA workers are supposed to conduct inspections in order to prevent this. The harmful paint dust is accumulating in the place that he has called his home for more than a decade.
  • February 27, 2018 – The New York Times publishes an article on a lawsuit representing 400,000 living in public housing accusing NYCHA of being negligent, not providing them with hot water and heat, filing false reports and not protecting them again deteriorating lead paint.
  • April 6, 2018 – Patch publishes an article about NYCHA workers supposed to check for lead in apartment where they thought there previously was none present. This includes working on two apartment complexes previously not thought to be contaminated with the paint.
  • January 28, 2019 – Fox5 publishes an article on the new program called LeadFreeNYC that will review every single apartment in public housing, as well as adress the ones affected to make it right.
  • July 31, 2019 – Chalkbeat publishes an article that highlights that more than 900 NYC elementary school classrooms have been inspected and contain damaged lead paint, at which point the exposure start becoming damaging to kids. Nearly 38% of school building built before 1985 were found to contain deteriorating lead paint.
  • August 2, 2019 – Welcome2TheBronx publishes and article talking about the same findings as were published by Chalkbeat, highlighting that 90 school buildings tested positive.
  • Feb 1, 2020 – Spectrum News publishes an article about the continued issues with public housing and their deteriorating paint. The article additionally mentions how roughly 1,000 children in public housing were affected in the 4 year span between 2012 and 2016. It is also specified how this is especially a problem in the Bronx where a lot of the building are older.
  • February 11, 2020 – The Real Deal publishes an article on additional laws enacted that will affect landlords that don’t have their papers in order. The various bills affect landlords, apartments built pre-1960 where a child resides, but the article points out that there are still a bunch of flaws and it is unsure as to how information will be distributed. One of the bills encourages contractors to keep their documentation in order in order to stay in compliance with already existing legislation.

Here at Check4Lead, we’re skeptical as to the way that NYC is dealing with their apparent problem, as it is not that existing legislation has been missing but rather that enforcement isn’t being done as well as it should be.

The EPA had already instated the necessary legislation in 2008, and later amended in 2010 and 2011, and yet we’re continuing to see problems related to implementation more than 10 years after things should start getting in order. Our suggestion is additionally to encourage the enforcement of sanctions and penalties for non-compliant contractors.

Biggest social issues affecting kids in 2020 – environmental racism

There’s no denying that there are certain parts of the population that are especially vulnerable when it comes to a range of different things, and given that the ones experiencing the effects the most from exposure to lead are the youngest members of our society, we definitely believe that one of the biggest social issues that affects kids in 2020 is the fact that minorities and people living in poorer parts of the country are more likely to be exposed to significant and damaging levels of lead compared to others in more affluent neighborhoods.

It’s unfortunately one of those cases of environmental racism where those communities with fewer means are less likely to be able to address some of the environmental concerns that exist, like the inclusion of paint in older buildings. Whereas we often associate the term environmental racism with something foreign that only happens in other countries, the truth of the matter is that we may not necessarily be exporting waste material into the poorer communities, but those are often the last ones where things like lead exposure is addressed. And in addition to that, those communities are also likely to be the ones in the part of town that contain more industrial manufacturing that may be massively polluting the air, further negatively affecting the health of the poorest parts of our population.

Our stance: Housing as a human right

We are firm believers that securing housing for individuals is a human right, and that it is of utmost importance that the housing that is provided won’t cause all sorts of health consequences for its inhabitants. When it comes to public housing, this is an option that is being made available to the most exposed part of the population, and it simply isn’t fair that their entrance into this world ends up being defined by the possibility of severe health consequences from inadequate housing being provided to those most in need.

New York is nowhere near the only city or state in the country where those that are already the most vulnerable end up living in very dangerous housing, with another notable example being Baltimore’s slums, which has been covered over at The Conversation, where lead poisoning is also a major issue.

The issue

Exposure to lead is a prominent problem that you may not yet be aware of, and unfortunately not enough has been done to raise awareness on the topic, if you ask us. We are not saying that nothing has been done, but we are saying that more could definitely be done and more should be done. There are many different states around the country that have significant landlord laws that include making the housing that is provided livable to live in, and we surely do not believe that a rental house that has vast amounts, or any amount for that matter, of deteriorating dangerous lead paint should be considered livable. The only reasonable thing to do in such situations is to use the proper lead test kits, test whether or not there in fact is a problem with the material, and then have it addressed if there is. While all deteriorating paint doesn’t contain lead, there is a fairly high chance that it does if the housing was built before 1978, and the risk of it only increases the older the home is. While this material may have had beneficial attributes that it helped provide the paint with, it doesn’t warrant people being exposed to the material today.

The same way that a landlord has to deal with mold if it is there, we believe it should be a human right that landlords are also required to deal with abating lead and ensuring the safety of the residents. It may not be an issue that is quite as easy to spot as the growing of mold, but it sure provides negative health consequences if it isn’t being dealt with.

The state that you live in may be more or less relaxed when it comes to ensuring that landlords are doing their fair share in providing a safe means for your family to live in, but at least we applaud the city of New York for standing up to the task and taking serious actions on the topic. Holding landlords accountable to the dangers they are exposing their tenants to is an important measure in making sure that rental units are getting the treatment that they need, as we have unfortunately seen for too long that they simply haven’t lived up to the information requirements instituted by the EPA.

If you live in a different state than New York, we encourage you to reach out to your government officials and have them look into taking similar actions. While the EPA is doing what they can, you as a citizen can do a lot by encouraging your elected officials to address lead exposure, with public housing being some of the places where already disadvantaged families have a significant risk of being exposed.

Kids are especially at risk

The sad thing is also that public housing may in certain instances be a temporary thing that a family chooses to live in until the financial situation might allow them to move out of it, but traditionally families may have an especially tight financial situation at the time when kids are either on their way into this life, or when kids are young, and public housing simply provides an affordable way to get a roof over your head without realizing the probable health dangers that it may also include. Again, we encourage you to reach out to government officials and have them look into the house.

The exposure to this material and the ingestion of it will have lasting consequences on both you, but especially also on your kids who are more at risk. Prolonged or acute exposure can lead to various things including developmental delay, irritability, cognitive decline and more.

After reading this article, our recommendation is to start out by finding out when the house or building that you are living in was in fact made and if it was before 1978, you should take actions to have it checked for lead, as that was when the material was practically banned from inclusion in residential house paints.

When you have figured out if your house was built before that, we encourage you to also take a look around to see where you are able to find deteriorating paint and have a landlord or contractor come by to deal with it.

It’s not worth risking your child experiencing developmental delays, learning difficulties, hearing loss, seizures and other side effects from the unnecessary exposure to this material, which are some of the many side effects.

Is it safe to live in a place that has lead paint on the walls?

The simple fact that lead is present in the paint isn’t in itself the dangerous part that families need to concern themselves with. However, the issue stems from the fact that most families aren’t simply living in a place where lead is included in the walls. Most families that live in this sort of housing are living in a place where maintenance has been minimal over the last many decades, and you often find that public housing in general proves to be very poorly kept. The issue in itself isn’t the lead in the walls, but it is when the lead starts leaving the walls and it ends up in a situation where you may be ingesting it, which will happen when the walls start to deteriorate, or there is other sorts of damage to the paint.

The issue with most public housing is simply that the necessary work isn’t being put in. While we have very strict laws that concern average landlords, it is very common that the people that are the most vulnerable are being forgotten about. It is not just that they are forgotten about in terms of education and the typical possibilities that most families have, but they are also forgotten about when it comes to actually ensuring that housing is being provided for them that is in fact safe to live in. While the idea of public housing is great, it is also important to ensure that the housing continues to be a safe place for people to live, and that it isn’t just a current source of toxins for its inhabitants.

A lot of the people that do live in public housing wish they would be able to afford living elsewhere, but the absolute least that we can do when this sort of housing is being provided is to make sure that it lives up to the same safety requirements that private landlords are being required to provide. The resources that have been made by the EPA should also be made readily available to inhabitants of public housing in order to inform them about some of the dangers associated with living in housing where the necessary safety precautions aren’t being met.

When you follow the timeline that we posted earlier on in the article, you can see that private landlords are being held to a higher standard than the people making the public housing available, but why is that the case? Why is it so that private landlords are being required to be able to provide documentation showing that they abide by the relevant RRP regulation when people in public housing don’t have a landlord that provides the same level of protection?

If anything, you would imagine that the government themselves were the first people to actually ensure that safe living conditions were being provided in the housing that they have made available, but more often than not that is not the case.

We understand that governments may have a limited budget that they are operating with, and that the maintenance that is needed for this type of housing may be limited, but that does not justify that a group that is already vulnerable is additionally suffering as a consequence of the poor budgeting. If the politicians really wanted to, they could figure out setting the necessary amount of money aside to actually deal with the issue and ensure safe living conditions.

If a private landlord isn’t willing to remedy the problems with the unit they are renting out, there are ways to address this, and you can be sure that the necessary housing unit would take swift action to punish the landlord appropriately.

Why isn’t the same standard being upheld when it comes to housing that is being provided by the government? It is not a matter of whether there is enough money available to address these safety concerns. It is rather a question of whether they are making it a priority to address these issues, and the sad reality is that it isn’t being prioritized.

Why is it that the people that need it the most are continuously being the ones that are forgotten about? Deteriorating lead paint in these old public housing buildings is one of the biggest social issues we are facing, as it means that people growing up there are already behind even before they get started.

What we encourage you to do

We encourage you to take action on this issue. We do need your help, however. We are willing to work with whoever we can in order to create awareness around the issue, but we can’t do it alone.

We are willing to donate one case of 48 lead tests for every news article that talks about the issue. The case of tests will be sent to a relevant person who either lives or works at one of these public housing buildings. We want to help spread awareness of the severity of the issue so that we can hopefully affect some politicians enough that they will actually care about the topic.

Do you live in a city where there is public housing that is being affected by this issue? Do you have any contact to any of the local newspapers that would be willing to print a story on the issue? If you are either able to put us in contact with someone who is willing to look into the story and have them publish about this issue, or if you can get a journalist to publish a story on this, we’ll be willing to reward you with a case of tests, or we will send it to the relevant public housing building of your choice.  

Other resources

At this point we would also like to draw attention to a couple of different resources that we have made available on this website. We realize that you might have initially landed on the website because you were searching the internet for Melrose Housing, as this website often appears for terms related to it, but there are so many other resources on this website that you may also have an interest in exploring.

For instance, we mentioned how there are different states that have different laws concerning the responsibilities of landlords, and while we may not yet have resources available for all the states, at least we have made a pretty extensive resource on the state of California that you can read – just go ahead and press the highlighted link. California has traditionally been a state that goes first when it comes to ensuring the safety of tenants, but chances are that your state may have additional requirements besides the guidelines instituted by the EPA, and we encourage you research what those are, too. On an ending note, we also want to draw attention to 2 other articles we have written, including one on illegal landlord actions, which is a general one and some of the stuff in there may still differ from what the situation is in your specific state, but it will at least help give you an idea of your rights. Secondly, we want to draw your attention to our resource on reporting a landlord. While we wish that won’t become necessary, at least you will be better equipped in a situation where it might be required.

We will be happy to hear your thoughts

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