I’ve been working on an article for blogHOUSTON about the lead-based paint issues for over two weeks now. Tom Bazan, a local assessor and long-time critic of the Housing and Community Development Department, was kind enough to forward me a great deal of information about the disputes between HCDD and HUD, and his Qui Tam lawsuit against the city.
Unfortunately, I seem to be getting dumber all the time (seriously, I’m wondering what’s wrong with me), because I just can’t grasp it. Too much of an alphabet soup of agencies, programs, and directives/memos/pleadings. The best I can do without being afraid of completely mischaracterizing something and drawing the wrath of the City’s Legal Department is the following.
Federal money went into assisting with the closing costs and down payment on several thousand houses since 1996, so the properties had to pass HUD-mandated inspection requirements. If the house was built before lead based paint (LBP) was banned (in other words, 1978 or earlier) the city was supposed to inspect houses for before the buyer completed the purchase. Unfortunately, the city’s inspections were found to be deficient — it has been alleged that the city steered the inspections to companies and individuals that would issue clean bills of health without a proper inspection — and HUD has been on the city’s case ever since. The city has even hired a D.C. law firm to “resolve” the outstanding issues with HUD (which include several other matters.)
It appears, according to documents that Mr. Bazan has acquired through TXPIA requests, that the city may be trying to get by with visual inspections for LBP, instead of performing more stringent tests. I guess if you have X-ray vision, you can see that the paint contains lead.
Beyond that, I’m lost. My kudos to Tom; he’s the expert in this area, and he’s looking out for the thousands of families that may be living in hazardous, lead-contaminated homes, as well as the city taxpayers who have to clean up this mess (Item #5) and pay for the lawyers (Item #48) that are trying to get the city off the hook with HUD.
Just as an aside about something that chafes me, I’d like to suggest that if that law firm’s negotiating skills are good, we should use them to ask certain folks(with apartments that aren’t up to code or HUD standards) to pay back their loans in full, instead of forgiving half of the principal and all the unpaid interest. (Item #46). Not that the city is any better at inspecting apartments than they are at inspecting homes:
In our review, we noted that noncompliant entities are not subject to timely re-inspections – either to ensure prompt implementation of agreed remediation actions or to avoid further deterioration. Several properties visited for HQS compliance purposes had “violations cited” during mid 2004 which are still shown as open; The Monitoring & Evaluation section documented eight (8) findings in its March 2003 review of one apartment complex (.APTDF / Deerfield Apartments, contract #FC38968), but we have received no evidence of any follow up or subsequent review and report by the section since then.
— Jefferson Wells audit, 2004.
More and more, it’s looking like the Housing and Community Development Department is overly trusting of developers and apartment owners — at best.
We also learned of some projects’ loans, which were converted after the fact by a previous director from a repayable loan to a non repayable grant. (Note these changes required and apparently received city council approval).
Perhaps it should be named the Department of Lead-Based Housing and Developer Charity?