Lead Poisoning Not Limited to Flint, Michigan

Recent reporting shows that lead poisoning is not limited to the city of Flint, Michigan, although that is certainly a particularly egregious example because it was something that did not have to happen and it did not happen before 1978, when the use of lead paint became illegal; it happened in the 21st century. Lead appeared in the water in Flint when government made a decision to switch the source of water piped into that city without having any testing to examine the quality of water from that new source. They put the poorest people in their community at risk to save money and we all know how that has worked out. I’m guessing they spent more, and will spend even more money for many years, than they ever saved.

Now we are finding high levels of lead in the blood streams of young children who live in public housing in older American cities where there is housing built before 1978. Assumptions were made that Housing authorities had remediated the lead paint in most city housing and therefore testing for flaking, peeling lead paint, or lead paint dust was only being done in properties where problems had appeared fairly recently.

After lead poisoning was found in Flint, children’s blood lead levels began to be taken more seriously in other cities. There is no legal level for lead in the blood. Even small amounts can affect brain development in toddlers and young children. If the paint chips are lying around children often enjoy crunching on them as they have a sweet flavor. I have a vague memory of actually ingesting such a chip sometime in my childhood. When a young girl in NYC was found to have blood lead levels that were much higher than the danger level of 5 micrograms per deciliter (mcg/dL) testing on the two apartments (mother and grandmother) where she spent the most time (public housing apartments) tested high with a common test for lead paint. However, the city typically uses a different test which often gives false negatives, because remediation is costly and they like the results of their less reliable test better.

After Flint the federal government got stricter about testing for lead paint and NYC has complied under Mayor Da Blasio. “Once inspections for lead paint were resumed it was found in 80% of the 8,300 apartments tested. A new round of visual checks found peeling paint in 92%. If paint is peeling there is most likely lead present in the paint. For years the city had ignored the blood tests of children with high lead content. Had they paid attention these children would have served as a great early warning that the problem had not been remediated effectively.

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/18/nyregion/nycha-lead-paint.html

Syracuse, NY, with a high level of poverty, has a similar unaddressed lead problem in public housing. Gabriela Knutson, writing in a publication at SU called Off Campus says,

“But what one doesn’t see on this morning is the way the area is one of the highest in the city of Syracuse for high blood lead levels in children. In the area surrounding Delaware Elementary School, as well as the areas to the west of it, an estimated 20 to 30 percent of children have a blood lead level higher than 5 micrograms per deciliter (mcg/dL).

This number is the standard created by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention(CDC) for the highest level of blood there can be in a child’s body before causing damage. In the City of Syracuse, an average of 11 percent of children exceed that number. Syracuse.com reports that 600 children were poisoned by lead paint in 2017.”

You can find almost the same number in any older rust belt city in America including Buffalo and Rochester, also in New York State.

https://www.thenewshouse.com/off-campus/child-lead-paint-poisoning-in-syracuses-impoverished-neighborhoods/

Conclusions:

Besides this very serious problem of peeling and flaking lead paint, public housing is often in dire condition and landlords are often able to show that fixing problems like rat infestations and insect infestations and decaying structural elements would be prohibitively expensive (cut into their profits) and would also just reoccur because of the problems poverty causes the tenants of these properties. Standards are lowered. Year after year properties in decline are rented for far too high a monthly rent, subsidized by all of us, and only problems that cannot be covered up by cheap, quick fixes are addressed. Often even the more in-depth projects do not renovate the property as a whole, but only the most unacceptable aspects of the property.

These problems cost all of us lots of money in terms of children who are left with learning disabilities and who must be given support for the rest of their lives and in terms of the mental toll living in substandard conditions takes on parents and children, a toll which weighs down an entire city. If the Democrats we send to Washington don’t attempt to fix this I doubt that anyone will. It is a maze and deciding who bears the financial responsibility for projects that end substandard housing subsidized by HUD once and for all is problematic when some housing paid for publicly is owned privately. Even when the housing is publicly owned deciding who pays for what, what must be torn down and replaced, what can be brought up to code, and then how we will keep it all in good repair is impossible unless we also address the poverty that will most likely recreate the conditions that plague public housing.

Money, of course, is at the root of all the problems of cities – the flight of the middle class to the suburbs, the flight of industry, the low tax base. We can’t just throw money at the poorest sectors of our cities either. Solid planning must create a plan that is realistic and doable. Such designs also cost money. As a priority though, it seems we need to focus on lead paint and lead poisoning in public housing once again and keep that focus until the problem is really solved, not swept under many a government carpet in many a cash-strapped city.

More sources:

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/12/nyregion/new-york-today-understanding-the-risks-of-lead-paint.html

https://www.consumerreports.org/lead/lead-paint-still-poses-a-safety-risk/

https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/home/millions-of-older-homes-still-have-lead-paint-on-the-walls-make-sure-yours-is-safe/2016/10/31/4e8f7f04-8437-11e6-92c2-14b64f3d453f_story.html

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/14/nyregion/nycha-settlement-court-ruling.html

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/26/nyregion/inside-public-housing-fix.html

https://www.syracuse.com/politics/index.ssf/2018/10/what_will_dana_balter_john_katko_do_about_lead_poisoning_in_syracuse_children.html

https://www.syracuse.com/health/index.ssf/2016/06/lead.html

 

Solve Poverty, Solve America

Poverty is
America’s biggest problem right now. If the middle class feels poor, then those
living in poverty feel even poorer. We don’t really have an education problem.
We have a poverty problem. We don’t really have an infrastructure problem. We
have a poverty problem.  We don’t have a
housing problem. We don’t have a crime problem, we have an opportunity gap,
which is a poverty problem. Every problem America has right now could be solved
if there was more money and if the problems were approached by creative, caring
grassroots people
In this
sense Bernie Sanders is right. Money no longer flows through our economy. The
wealthy people at the top of the economy are hoarding all the money. If the
world were a great big glass chamber with money blowing around to be caught and
pocketed, most of us are not even in the chamber. We do need to change our tax
laws and finance laws and close loopholes until the rush of money to the top 1%
slows and more of America’s money circulates through the middle class and lifts
up the poorest Americans.
Since the
wealthiest Americans show little inclination to make money flow more equally
through our society the problems being created by poverty are increasingly
making themselves felt by all of us who live anywhere in America. This cannot
be perceived as a problems of just our inner cities. We cannot just absent
ourselves from our downtown areas until our cities become off limits to all but
the most desperate. What happens in one sector of our society eventually
affects all of our society.
 
The
Brookings Institute has been looking at our cities in some detail recently.
They have concluded what we already knew about stubborn pockets of poverty and
who lives in those blighted pockets. Now Brookings is going beyond city centers
to look at metro areas around cities and what they are finding should not lead
us to feel complacent in our distant suburbs. Our cities may have felt the
sting of tight money first, but the pinch is spreading outward and will
continue to spread into more affluent middle class neighborhoods if we do not
face our challenges now.
Below, in
the author’s words, is a summary of the key points of the Brookings Institute
study on metro areas around cities. You can read the entire article and see the
graphs (which are too large to reproduce here) at 

The economically turbulent
2000s have redrawn America’s geography of poverty in more ways than one. After
two downturns and subsequent recoveries that failed to reach down the economic
ladder, the number of people living below the federal poverty line ($23,492 for
a family of four in 2012) remains stubbornly stuck at record levels. Today,
more of those residents live in suburbs than in big cities or rural
communities, a significant shift compared to 2000, when the urban poor still
outnumbered suburban residents living in poverty.1
But as poverty has spread,
it has not done so evenly. Instead, it has also become more clustered and
concentrated in distressed and high-poverty neighborhoods, eroding the brief progress made against concentrated poverty during the
late 1990s.
The challenges of poor
neighborhoods—including worse health outcomes, higher crime rates, failing
schools, and fewer job opportunities—make it that much harder for individuals
and families to escape poverty and often perpetuate and entrench poverty across
generations.2 These factors affect not only the residents and
communities touched by concentrated disadvantage, but also the regions they
inhabit and the ability of those metro areas to grow in inclusive and
sustainable ways.
I. Between 2000 and
2008-2012, the number of people living in distressed neighborhoods grew by 5
million.
The nation’s 100 largest
metro areas are home to 70 percent of all distressed census tracts, along with
similar proportions of the total population and poor residents living in such
neighborhoods. That’s not surprising, considering that, historically,
concentrated poverty has been a largely urban phenomenon. However, larger
shifts in the geography of poverty within these metro areas during the 2000s
have also made concentrated poverty an increasingly regional challenge.
II. The suburban poor accounted for a growing share of residents living
in concentrated poverty in the 2000s
.
The concentrated poverty
rate remains highest in big cities, where almost one in four poor residents (23
percent) lived in a distressed neighborhood in 2008-2012, compared to 6.3
percent in suburbs. However, suburban communities experienced the fastest pace
of growth in the number of poor residents living in concentrated poverty over
this time period.
III. Suburbs in the Sun Belt experienced some of the steepest increases
in concentrated disadvantage.
Almost every major metro
area saw the number of suburban poor living in high-poverty or distressed
neighborhoods grow during the 2000s.
IV. Demographic differences between lower-poverty and higher-poverty
suburban neighborhoods narrowed during the 2000s.

Our inner
city schools will not magically start performing great educational feats if
they are not given some really substantial help. We need to pour all the
resources we can spare, and even resources we don’t think we can spare, and all
the best educational practices into these schools so we can move these children
(and their families) up and out of poverty.
We cannot
just turn our backs on this struggle for the minds and hearts of inner city
children. If we do it will come back to haunt us. It has already chased us off of
what used to be some pretty valuable real estate. It has taken whole
neighborhoods and turned them into places in our own cities that we will no
longer travel to or through. These children are people, and their lives are
being wasted. No matter how poor the middle class is feeling if the richest
among us will not help, then we must forgo some of our own comforts for a while
and tackle this blight which we have allowed to persist for too long. We are
not doing enough for these schools and these children. We need to start with
this – priority number one.
Along with
our schools, our low performing schools, we need to contribute extra dollars
from our own pockets, dollars that stay local and can be used when crumbling
infrastructure needs attention. Flint, Michigan has, I hope, taught us some
valuable lessons. Old water conduits and old sewers are under all the cities in
America and can require attention at any time. We need a citizen’s emergency
fund that is not available to local governments for any other need than a
pressing infrastructure need.

We cannot
wait for rich folks to stop being greedy. We cannot wall off or write off the
poorest neighborhoods and forget about them. If we do, America will rot from
the inside out.

By Nancy Brisson

Our Cities/Metro Areas Need Attention

I live in a small city in the center of New York State which
has been hit hard by globalization. I know some people blame trade agreements,
or Obama, or high taxes but I do not. I think that corporations were set to
salivating at the thought of distant places with very cheap labor and no
environmental regulations and low overheads. Once the first little lemming
jumped continents there was a stampede to the newest Capitalist nirvana (a
Communist country – who would have thought). There was the added incentive of
all those brand new consumers to satisfy. Manufacturers saw an opportunity-vacuum
and they filled it, because we know how nature abhors a vacuum.
My small city lost business after business. Empty factories
still sit everywhere, or have been torn down or repurposed. Corporate names
have disappeared from local landmarks. But what I was not seeing, or at least
not clearly, was brought to my attention by an online article. It was a study
at The Cultural Foundation saying that my hometown, Syracuse, NY, had the most
stubborn and most segregated areas of poverty in all of America.
Here
are some excerpts from the article:
The Architecture of Segregation: Civil Unrest, the
Concentration of Poverty, and Public Policy by Paul A. Gargowsky

Over the past year, scenes of civil unrest have played out in the
deteriorating inner-ring suburb of Ferguson and the traditional urban ghetto of
inner-city Baltimore. The proximate cause of these conflicts has been brutal
interactions between police and unarmed black men, leading to protests that
include violent confrontations with police, but no single incident can explain
the full extent of the protesters’ rage and frustration. The riots and
protests—which have occurred in racially-segregated, high-poverty
neighborhoods, bringing back images of the “long, hot summers” of the
1960s—have sparked a national conversation about race, violence, and policing
that is long overdue.

Something important, however, is being left out of this conversation:
namely, that we are witnessing a nationwide return of concentrated poverty that
is racial in nature, and that this expansion and continued existence of
high-poverty ghettos and barrios is no accident. These neighborhoods are not
the value-free outcome of the impartial workings of the housing market. Rather,
in large measure, they are the inevitable and predictable consequences of
deliberate policy choices.

To address the root causes of urban
violence, police-community tensions, and the enduring legacy of racism, the
genesis of urban slums and the forces that sustain them must be understood. As
a first step in that direction, this report examines the trends in the
population and characteristics of neighborhoods of extreme deprivation.
 Some of the key findings include:
  • There was a dramatic increase in the number of
    high-poverty neighborhoods.
  • The number of people living in high-poverty ghettos,
    barrios, and slums has nearly doubled since 2000, rising from 7.2 million
    to 13.8 million.
  • These increases were well under way before the Great
    Recession began.
  • Poverty became more concentrated—more than one in four
    of the black poor and nearly one in six of the Hispanic poor lives in a neighborhood
    of extreme poverty, compared to one in thirteen of the white poor.
  • To make matters worse, poor children are more likely to
    reside in high-poverty neighborhoods than poor adults.
  • The fastest growth in black concentration of poverty
    (12.6 percentage points) since 2000 was not in the largest cities, but in
    metropolitan areas with 500,000 to 1 million persons.
This report discusses these trends in the context of the
policy choices that helped to construct this architecture of segregation, and makes
suggestions on how it can be overcome.
Figure 8 which is an interactive graphic and cannot be copied
shows High-Poverty Census Tracts in Syracuse Metropolitan Area.
After the graphic the author notes:
The fastest rate of growth in concentrated poverty for
whites (5.5 percentage points) and for Hispanics (7.4 percentage points) was in
even smaller metropolitan areas: those with 250,000 to 500,000 person, such as
Flint, Michigan; Lubbock, Texas; and Reading, Pennsylvania.
More from this study:
Public Policy and the Concentration of Poverty
Recent economic troubles have
clearly contributed to the sharp re-concentration of poverty since 2000. But
another huge factor, in good economic times and bad, has been rampant suburban
and exurban development. Suburbs have grown so fast that their growth was
cannibalistic: it came at the expense of the central city and older suburbs.15 In
virtually all metropolitan areas, suburban rings grew much faster than was
needed to accommodate metropolitan population growth, so that the central
cities and inner-ring suburbs saw massive population declines. The recent trend
toward gentrification is barely a ripple compared to the massive surge to the
suburbs since about 1970. Moreover, taxpayers funded all the new infrastructure
needed to facilitate suburban expansion—roads, schools, water and sewer, and so
on—even as existing infrastructure was abandoned and underutilized in the urban
core.16
The population movements were also highly selective.
Through exclusionary zoning and outright housing market discrimination, the
upper-middle class and affluent could move to the suburbs, and the poor were
left behind.17 Public and assisted housing units were often
constructed in ways that reinforced existing spatial disparities.18 Now,
with gentrification driving up property values, rents, and taxes in many urban
cores, some of the poor are moving out of central cities into decaying
inner-ring suburbs.
A Second Study:
And
indeed this next study shows income decay in suburban neighborhoods which are
part of the metropolitan areas of some of our cities.
The Growth and Spread of Concentrated Poverty, 2000 to
2008-2012
The economically turbulent 2000s have redrawn America’s
geography of poverty in more ways than one. After two downturns and subsequent
recoveries that failed to reach down the economic ladder, the number of people
living below the federal poverty line ($23,492 for a family of four in 2012)
remains stubbornly stuck at record levels. Today, more of those residents live
in suburbs than in big cities or rural communities, a significant shift compared
to 2000, when the urban poor still outnumbered suburban residents living in
poverty.1

But as poverty has spread, it has not done so evenly. Instead, it has also
become more clustered and concentrated in distressed and high-poverty
neighborhoods, eroding the brief progress made against concentrated
poverty
during the late 1990s.

The challenges of poor neighborhoods—including worse health
outcomes, higher crime rates, failing schools, and fewer job opportunities—make
it that much harder for individuals and families to escape poverty and often
perpetuate and entrench poverty across generations.2 These factors
affect not only the residents and communities touched by concentrated
disadvantage, but also the regions they inhabit and the ability of those metro
areas to grow in inclusive and sustainable ways.

Between 2000 and 2008-2012, the number of people living in distressed
neighborhoods grew by 5 million.

The suburban poor accounted for a growing share of residents living in
concentrated poverty in the 2000s.

Suburbs in the Sun Belt experienced some of the steepest increases in
concentrated disadvantage.

Demographic differences between lower-poverty and higher-poverty suburban
neighborhoods narrowed during the 2000s.

There are charts and tables to support each point, too many to
show here.
Implications
“Although severely concentrated disadvantage remains a
predominantly urban phenomenon, suburbs now have nearly as many poor residents
in high-poverty neighborhoods as cities. If these communities are ignored, they
could become areas of concentrated poverty over time. Combatting poverty in
distressed neighborhoods remains a pressing priority, but policymakers,
practitioners, and regional leaders should also be looking “upstream” to halt
the progression of concentrated disadvantage before it crosses the 40 percent
threshold. The fact that so many of these neighborhoods and residents are
located in suburbs only adds to the challenge and the need for urgency, because
many of these communities are ill-equipped and unprepared to deal with the
needs of a growing and increasingly concentrated low-income population.
Given the limited resources at hand to address these challenges,
effectively tackling the scope of today’s need necessitates more integrated and
cross-cutting approaches. Policymakers and practitioners can learn from regional
leaders who are finding innovative ways
of making limited resources stretch
further to confront the regional scale of poverty. These leaders are crafting
approaches that work across urban and suburban boundaries and connect decisions
around housing, transportation, workforce development, and jobs to provide
stronger pathways between low-income residents and regional economic
opportunity, regardless of where they live.”
Me again-
If you are like me you have few ideas about how to solve the
decay in and around our cities. Jobs and a healthy economy would surely go a
long way towards alleviating this downward trend, but recession alone does not
explain why our minorities are so consistently poor and why they are so trapped
in inner city neighborhoods where services are poor, budgets are tight and
people are not thriving.
If architecture and real estate have been used to discriminate
then perhaps some attention to these areas may help get us out of this stubborn
pattern. Even if we don’t find ways to get our economy humming along again we
still need to tackle this stuff. With smaller local budgets at all levels (think
Flint, Michigan) we will need to be really creative, really compassionate, and
practice lots of that tolerance and civility that we believe in so strongly but
which we are having such a hard time accessing. Solving housing problems might
also help solve the problems in some of our schools. And it might free up the
creativity of people who are too busy surviving to tap into their higher order
skills.
By Nancy Brisson

More On Poverty in Our Cities

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I sent an
email to the editor of the local paper, The
Post-Standard
, telling them about the study by The Century Foundation
entitled “Architecture of Segregation
which I had read on The Daily Beast
website.  http://apps.tcf.org/architecture-of-segregation

The study
points out, the article in The
Post-Standard
states, that

“Syracuse has the highest rate of extreme poverty concentrated
among blacks and Hispanics out of the nation’s 100 largest metropolitan areas,
according to a new study of poverty in America.

The study is the latest to examine a decades-long trend in
Syracuse, where the city has consistently ranked as having one of the highest
poverty rates in the nation.

The analysis of census data by a Rutgers University professor
shows that extreme poverty continues to spread unabated out of Syracuse’s core
to the city’s Near South, Near Southwest and North Side.

In 2000, Syracuse had nine “extreme poverty”
neighborhoods, defined as census tracts where more than 40 percent of residents
live in poverty.

By 2010, Syracuse had 19 such neighborhoods, according to a 2011
study by the Brookings Institution.

Now the number of high-poverty tracts in Syracuse totals 30,
according to Paul Jargowsky
the Rutgers University-Camden professor who published the study with The Century Foundation.

“The
general trend is that there is a spreading out of poverty,” Jargowsky said
in an interview. “That is happening all over the place. But I didn’t know
Syracuse was going to stand out the way it did.” “

You can read
the entire article here:

The original
article and The Post-Standard
article both talk about the fact that when neighborhoods became diverse, white
people moved further away and suburban sprawl got further and further from the
city center. People in these increasingly distant suburbs wanted the
convenience of public infrastructure like city water and being connected to the
same sewage grid used by city dwellers (although the infrastructure was clearly
much newer). These folks had good salaries and could pay enough taxes to make
government responsive to their needs. As more and more tax dollars were spent
further from the city center and as the city center emptied out infrastructure
in the center of the city was neglected and deteriorated from age and use. When
folks left behind in the center city tried to follow white people to the
suburbs they found themselves locked out (or locked in). Partly this was
because they were poorer than those who left for the suburbs, and partly it was
due to actual exclusionary practices.

For these
and similar reasons, The Century Foundation study under the direction of Paul
Jargowsky (Rutgers) is pointing out this information so that we can find ways
to change this paralysis in our center cities. Syracuse is not alone in this
situation, although we may be No. 1, perhaps because we are not a rich city, but I
believe that we also share in all of the other ways that white people have
found to pretend that they are not racist. If you want to see what I mean
register on Syracuse.com so you can read the comments of my fellow Syracuse
residents who appear to have been brainwashed by Fox News et al and who are
Exhibit A in what passes for extreme right wing logic which says that the
liberals and the victims are to blame and that this city poverty trap is the
result of liberal programs that support the poor and allow them to survive
without working. I apologize in advance for their ignorance and their inability
to hold an original thought.

The problems
with writing off this study as delineating a condition that is ‘someone
else’s problem’, is that there are and will be repercussions if this situation
continues. It is wrong and we need to tackle the beast and find a way to make
America better. Here’s what one of our city officials had to say:

Paul Driscoll, Syracuse’s commissioner of neighborhood and
business development, said city officials are disturbed by the study’s
findings. But he said officials cannot explain why the city seems to be lagging
the rest of the nation in reducing its poverty.

“We are all struggling to understand why Syracuse is
getting hit worse than other cities,” Driscoll said in an interview.
“We’re just looking to address what cities can do to address poverty.
We’re finding we’re pretty limited in what we can do. We deal with the
consequences at the local level, but a lot of these problems have to be dealt
with at the state and federal level.”

I hope this
will not be our only response to the information in this study. We live in a
city that is home to an important private university. We are a city full of
architects (award-winning) and engineers. Certainly a committee could be formed
to look for some creative ways to address this stubborn inequality in our
community. If it was caused mainly by housing issues and unwillingness to live
in mixed race communities then people who deal with housing issues might be
exactly the people who can find a way out of this. Once some professional
approaches have been discussed and designs produced, perhaps community people
(those stuck in poverty) could be invited into the group to go over the plans
and offer input. I hope this study does not just plop down with a big thud on
our doorsteps and then disappear.

We have all
been getting glimpses of what will happen if we do not tackle this now. I do
not think that our stranded, poor, neighbors are about to accept much more of
being overlooked and over-prosecuted and being deprived of opportunities to
succeed. This issues falls into the category of “pay now or pay later” and if
we wait until later the price will only get higher. Pretend you are so
intimidated by poor minority people that you will do almost anything to defuse
the situation. Perhaps that is the only way these folks will get their due.

The New York
Times
also had an article about this topic. Here’s the link:

Think,
everyone, think!
By Nancy Brisson