What is the City's Plan to make Cleveland Lead Safe?

Residents First proposal will have an impact on Lead Safety goals in 2024 and 2025. Here's some early observations.

Mayor's office takes the lead on Lead Safe Certificate program

Mar. 27, 2024. cleveland.com. Children’s well-being is at stake in Cleveland’s lead-safe refresh, version 3.0: editorial. "The good news is that Cleveland is still trying valiantly to recalibrate its approach to making Cleveland rentals lead-safe by 2028 -- this time by creating a special section in the city’s Housing and Building Department that will take a case-management approach to helping noncompliant small landlords navigate the bureaucracy, financial and other challenges. The bad news is that all signs point to cratering landlord compliance, especially among smaller landlords. Meanwhile, hundreds of Cleveland children continue to test annually at elevated lead levels in their blood -- 316 last year, compared with 257 in 2022, cleveland.com’s Courtney Astolfi reports, although the higher number could reflect more robust testing.

In the news: Cleveland's Hail Mary: housing code enforcement reform

Sidebar #1: When asked about tenants' role in shaping this new initiative, Director Martin-O'Toole cited Phil Star (former Exec Director of Cleveland Tenants Organization and other housing advocates. Council Committee Chairperson Anthony Hairston hastened to add that there will be plenty of opportunity for tenants and tenant organizations to offer suggestions to make the legislation stronger. But...

Sidebar #2: Ordinary citizens are fed up with junk, slow response from city departments and their service providers (eg. CDCs and Legal Aid), and courts. 

Sidebar #3: Despite all the sympathetic rhetoric about protecting "mom and pop" landlords and not being included in the drafting process, the real redline for the Northern Ohio Apartment Association and the Real Estate industry is inspections. Taking the "investigate" out of investment is their goal.

Sidebar #4: The messaging on Residents First has focused on "out of town predatory" investors. but the reality is that many local entities are facilitators of local and predatory investors. Many locally based "flippers" are "bad actors." So, really. are these residents being protected?

Sidebar #5: Who's got the dough-re-mi? Much of the current enforcement efforts focused on the Shaker Square landlords, the Norfolk and Western Railroad and the 50 delinquent owners of Lead Poisoned houses, is being funded by ARPA money which will be running out around the same time that the Council and Mayor are running for reelection. 

What is the City's plan to make Cleveland Lead Safe?

Back in 2019 when CLASH forced City Council to enact the Lead Safe Certificate Program, the deal was that Council and Mayor Frank Jackson would enact the ordinance and their public-private partnership would implement the program. Things have changed since the 2019-2022 roll out of the Lead Safe Certificate program. Over the next few months, CLASH will be offering some clues as to the direction of the plan.

Cleveland has two operating entities providing lead safe housing services

LSCC is an unincorporated association of nonprofit entities each of which receives funding through LSCC and each of which has a vote on the Steering Committee of LSCC. There are two "chiefs". The Mount Sinai Health Foundation (Mitchell Balk) and the Enterprise Community Partners (Ayonna Blue Donald). 

Over the past four years (2019-2022), LSCC has gained control of the oversight of the city program without offering much, if any, information about how LSCC operates.

Examples of LSCC control of city departments:

The times may be 'a-changing...or not.

With the slow pace of progress being reported to City Council, the Mayor and some city Council members may revamp the "public private partnership" to improve accountability of the privage partners. Or, maybe elected leaders will be content to have the private sector carry out public policy with increasing reliance on general fund dollars and pass-thru grant funding.

Will LSCC use their civic power to keep control of the city programs and while increasingly drawing on city tax and grant revenue to support their non-profit entities. (see below-an analogy).

Here's some signs of change

Public - Private Partnerships

The history of public-private partnerships in Cleveland is that the the private investment continues, but the program begins to shift towards the public sector after about 5 years as other public private investments grab the awareness of the Civic Elite.

What is a Public - Private Partnership?

A public - private partnership takes place when the public sector (Mayor, Council) wants to start a program without raising taxes or fees. The Philanthropic and Corporate sectors step forward to provide financing and management through a network of private non-profit corps. 

In the case of lead safety, the Lead Safe Cleveland Coalition was formed to provide lead info to residents through the Lead Safe Resource Center and financial assistance to landlords through the CHN Partners..in exchange for control of the city program through 3rd party advisors. Private sector jobs; no public accountability. Then, after a while, the private sector funding is converted to public funding going to the private non-profit corporations.

 Example: Mt. Sinai Foundation (fiscal agent for LSCC) is seeking $800.000 from Cuyahoga County for operation of the Lead Safe Resource Center--so far no itemized budget, list of goals and objectives, or staffing positions or salaries. Did Mt. Sinai Health Foundation run out of money to pay for this program they created? Hardly: Mt. Sinai Health Foundation awards medical school $2 million to accelerate new treatments for devastating diseases. What starts as a public-private partnership shifts over time to a system where the public sector pays and private sector hires without any public accountability. 

Meanwhile Environmental Health Watch which operates the LSCC funded Lead Safe Resource Center is a partner is a consortium of agencies providing technical assistance on environmental organizing thanks to a $10 million grant from US EPA. The Blacks in Green grantees recently sent staffers to the Climate Conference in Dubai.

In fact, in 2022, one of the representatives to the City's LEAD SAFE ADVISORY BOARD told the other board members that the city-paid City Lead Safe Auditor (CWRU) was not allowed to evaluate LSCC operations...he's only allowed to audit the City Departments. 

Another example: In 2019, civic leaders formed a public-private partnership to bring Say Yes to Education to Cleveland.  "Say Yes to Education helped provide startup experience and funding but has fully wound down its operations as anticipated in June 2021, with Say Yes Cleveland now fully independent and locally governed."  Part of that "full independence and local governance" has turned out to be frantic public appeals to the City of Cleveland and Cuyahoga County to provide funding for the health, education and social service non-profits who provide supplemental services to students in the Cleveland Municipal School District. More on the struggle to find public dollars to support the private Say Yes employees.  UPDATE: Say Yes Cleveland family support specialist program gets $4.5 million from state budget

How the Philanthropic/Corporate Oligarchy "buys" civic influence

Cleveland Mayor Bibb, others to announce fair-wage program for restaurant workers, Mayor takes credit for a pay increase for restaurant workers and foundations foot the bill for a "pilot project" that will eventually morph into a tax supported expense. Who needs campaign donations to influence elected officials when wealthy tax charitable foundations can foot the campaign messaging?