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Advocates Launch Ballot Initiative To Pressure Cleveland Council On Lead

Members of Cleveland Lead Advocates for Safe Housing outline their proposal in a Monday news conference. [Nick Castele / ideastream]
Members of Cleveland Lead Advocates stand at a lectern to outline their proposal.

Advocates of lead paint legislation say they’ll go to the ballot if Cleveland City Council doesn’t adopt a measure requiring that rental properties be made safe from lead.

Leaders of Cleveland Lead Advocates for Safe Housing (CLASH) want the city to require landlords to make rental properties safe from lead paint by 2021. At a news conference Monday morning, group members said they plan to collect petition signatures to force council to address the issue.

Cleveland’s charter allows members of the public to submit legislation to council if they gather 5,000 valid signatures. If council rejects the measure, or passes it with changes, petitioners can put the issue up for a citywide vote. 

Rebecca Maurer, an attorney with the group, called lead poisoning an “urgent matter” in Cleveland. She said CLASH is open to working with city council on the measure.

“We want to bring this legislation as soon as possible to a ballot, and that means gathering signatures right now,” Maurer said. “But it could be handled faster if city council was willing to put this bill forward and take it seriously. We hope that they do.”

The measure would require landlords of properties built after 1978 to have their rentals inspected for lead hazards every two years. Rental properties would also need to be registered with the city. After March 2021, Cleveland could fine landlords for lead paint violations as part of the city’s housing code enforcement.

The legislation would also allow tenants to terminate their lease agreements or have their rent abated if they have to move out while landlords address lead hazards. Tenants could also elect for landlords to provide them alternate housing, according to the measure.

Former Councilman Jeff Johnson, who is working with CLASH, introduced similar legislation while running for mayor in 2017. Council hasn’t voted on the measure, though it has held hearings since then on lead poisoning. 

“We’re not going to wait until city hall tells us they’re going to do it,” Johnson said at the Monday news conference. “But along the way, should they pass it, we will stop our petition drive.”

Last month, Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson and some council members announced a different initiative to combat lead poisoning. That group, the Lead Safe Cleveland Coalition, aims to bring together foundations, hospitals and other groups.

Council President Kevin Kelley said Monday afternoon that he would ask the city’s coalition for feedback on the CLASH proposal.

“We’re open to any and all ideas for people that have genuine ideas of how to solve this problem,” Kelley said. “This is something that I would refer to the coalition to review.”

Council passed  a resolution Monday night supporting the coalition’s work and its aim to reduce lead poisoning by 90 percent over the next 10 years.

Kelley said the city’s solution will likely include requirements for rental properties to be safe from lead, but that it’s too soon to say for certain.

“This isn’t going to be solved by legislation,” he said. “The bigger issue is going to be the resources, it’s going to be the implementation, it’s going to be, how do we make these homes lead safe.”

Read the proposed legislation below. Mobile users can view here.


Nick Castele was a senior reporter covering politics and government for Ideastream Public Media. He worked as a reporter for Ideastream from 2012-2022.