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Baltimore Housing Pays $6M Lead Tab

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

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Baltimore’s public housing authority has paid more than $6.7 million to lead-poisoning victims in six lead-based paint cases, according to officials.

The $6,786,955.86 in payments were paid using coffers meant to subsidize low-income housing for the nation’s fifth-largest housing authority, the Housing Authority of Baltimore City, MD, announced Aug. 14.

Baltimore Housing

Baltimore's public housing authority faces hundreds of lead-poisoning lawsuits. The use of lead-based paint has been banned in the city since 1950.

The recent payments were said to resolve all outstanding court judgments not on appeal. The authority previously paid $5 million to lead-poisoning victims using non-federal funds obtained from insolvent insurance companies.

Hundreds of lead-based paint lawsuits have plagued the Housing Authority of Baltimore City for decades, resulting in millions of dollars in judgments.

The federally funded housing authority has been criticized for its inability or unwillingness to pay many of the outstanding judgments.

In a release, the housing authority said it paid the six judgments—ranging from $365,000 to more than $4 million per suit—on Aug. 8, the day after it gained federal approval from the department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

No ‘Global’ Solution Possible

"It has always been our desire to satisfy these judgments,” Baltimore Housing Executive Director Paul T. Graziano said in a statement, noting that the housing authority had been working toward a “global solution” for the cases.

Graziano said the agency wanted to address these cases and resolve all remaining cases (filed and unfiled) in a “global manner,” while continuing to serve the most vulnerable households in the city; however, efforts to that effect were not possible.

Paul Graziano

Paul Graziano, executive director of the housing authority, said the authority could not resolve all remaining lead-based paint lawsuits in a global manner.

"Unfortunately, a global resolution was not possible, and payment of the judgments involved complicated and lengthy matters, including litigation in federal court, as well as HUD review and approval,” the authority noted.

Hundreds of Cases

In an interview with the Baltimore Sun, Graziana said the authority still faced some 316 unresolved cases related to lead-paint exposure, with claims totaling $929 million.

The authority has seen 251 legal triumphs and fended off $1.4 billion in claims, the housing authority director said.

The magnitude of the authority’s lead-paint caseload is unique, the authority has said.

“Other housing authorities have not experienced the high volume of cases or the large size of the judgments.”

Victims Compensated

“At long last, the lead-poisoned children who received judgments a long time ago finally received their compensation,” Brian S. Brown, the attorney who represented the six plaintiffs whose judgments were recently paid, told the Baltimore Sun.

Case documents for the six plaintiffs were not immediately available for review.

While many of the lead-paint lawsuits were filed only in recent years, they involve events that pre-date Maryland’s Reduction of Lead Risk in Housing Act, which took effect in 1996, according to the housing authority.

The authority says it has fully complied with the law and now provides lead-safe housing to 25,000 low-income households.

Using Federal Funds

The authority’s decision to seek HUD permission to use some of its $253 million in operating funds to cover the settlements was a difficult one, the Baltimore Sun reported.

Payment of the judgments will impact the authority’s ability to provide Section 8 housing vouchers for approximately 700 families in need in 2013, the housing agency said, noting that the strapped federal government agency is not providing the city any additional money to handle the claims.

“The result is that payments to former tenants who were permanently injured as a result of substandard conditions in Baltimore's public housing will mean fewer opportunities for those who need help now,” the Sun reported.

The authority is further seeking HUD’s permission to use more funds to set up a “self-insurance” pool to cover future claims, according to the Sun.


Tagged categories: Government; Housing; Laws and litigation; Lawsuits; Lead; Maintenance + Renovation; Residential

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