What’s holding up a bill in City Council that would protect nearly all renters from the dangers of lead exposure?
Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown won’t say.
Reynolds Brown said Thursday she had the votes on City Council to pass her bill that would bolster lead-safety protections for most tenants by mandating all rental units built before 1978 be certified as free of lead (with the exception of those for college students).
But a new “wrinkle” has caused her to put the bill on ice until at least the fall when City Council returns from its summer break, she said Thursday at City Council.
“I’m not at liberty to say it now and I will not say it now until I’ve conferred with my colleagues,” Reynolds Brown said when asked about the delay.
The delay left advocates frustrated, with many appearing at the City Council session.
George Gould, senior attorney at Community Legal Services who has worked with the councilwoman’s office on the bill, said he was concerned Reynolds Brown was caving to the landlord and real estate lobby who oppose the bill.
“For whatever reason, she seems beholden to them,” he said.
The current city law requires landlords renting properties built before 1978 — when the consumer use of lead paint was banned — certify units are lead-free only if they will be occupied by families with children 6 years old or younger.
Advocates say the current law is too narrow, does not protect children and causes landlords to discriminate against families with young children.
“The current bill is not enforceable and not effective,” Gould said.
Industry lobbyists, including the Homeowners Association of Philadelphia, have opposed the bill, saying the regulation would burden landlords, raise rents and increase wait times for units due to testing and remediation.
While the city has nearly 5,800 unexpired lead-safe certifications, children 6 and younger reside in an estimated 22,000 rental properties throughout the city.
Predominantly Black neighborhoods in North Philadelphia and parts of West and Southwest Philadelphia experience higher rates of lead exposure than the rest of the city, according to a 2017 city Health Department report.
The report also found a link between children living in poverty and older homes to elevated blood lead levels.
Councilman Curtis Jones, who supported the legislation, was confident at least nine votes were there on City Council to pass the bill that would work to address the city’s server lead problem.
“The councilwoman tries very hard to find common ground,” Jones said. “Sometimes common ground can’t be found.”
Reynolds Brown said the bill will not go before City Council for during the last session on June 20 before the 17-member legislature goes on break until Sept. 12.
The councilwoman said she’ll use the summer to continue doing research for the bill and building a consensus among stakeholders.
Reynolds Brown’s 20-year tenure on City Council will end this year because she did not run for reelection. Asked whether the bill will eventually pass before she leaves office, she said: “That’s my expectation.”