sweet home: members of Girls Inc. Photo
by Leif Zurmuhlen
Inc. sends schoolgirls on tours of inner-city neighborhoods
to find ideas for improving their cities
Ginyard proposed asking local stores to donate paint and hardware
so that community members can get together and fix up vacant
houses for homeless people to live in.
Shamirea Tucker suggested the city replace the broken and
dirty pay telephones in her neighborhood with new phones that
can be operated free of charge, to help those who have no
phones and little money to spend on calls.
Kara Holloway asked the community to pitch in and wash graffiti
off city walls, while Shamice Hamilton suggested that people
simply pick up trash strewn about city streets.
Ginyard, Tucker, Hamilton and Holloway are not politicians
or city planners or community leaders—they are members of
Girls Incorporated of the Capital Region and students at Albany’s
Philip Schuyler Elementary School. The girls have been celebrating
Girls’ Rights Week by walking through the neighborhoods they
live in, making a list of the eyesores and other problems
they see, and suggesting solutions such as the ones they brought
before the Albany Common Council on Monday night.
can count about eight abandoned buildings on my street alone,”
said Ginyard. “We saw a sign on the street [Clinton Avenue]
that said ‘Block of the Year.’ Well, that must have been a
real long time ago because now it’s so dirty. It’s like nobody
cares about this street anymore.”
Teri Bordenaue, president/CEO of Girls Inc., said that the
walk was intended to draw attention to the Girls Inc. Girls’
Bill of Rights, specifically the fifth right, which states,
“As a girl, I have the right to have confidence in myself
and to be safe in the world.” Bordenaue said that a lot of
the girls in the program are from low-income families that
don’t have cars. Therefore, most of them walk a lot but don’t
feel safe in their own neighborhoods.
starts at home,” said Bordenaue. “These girls should feel
safe where they live, but many of them do not. The project
gave them an opportunity to talk about this to us and to their
elected officials. It also helped to show them to use their
voice as a vehicle for empowerment.”
Albany was not the only city that participated in the event.
In Schenectady, a group from Girls Inc. walked through Hamilton
Hill with Schenectady Mayor Albert Jurczynski and other city
officials. The girls presented their findings at the town
meeting last Friday (May 17). Many of their concerns mirrored
those of the girls in Albany.
Laura Baldwin, who is 16 and grew up in Hamilton Hill, said
she has seen her neighborhood change a lot over the past couple
of years. And although she says there are many things that
she still enjoys about the area, like the people that live
there, more and more she feels unsafe.
am most concerned with the crime, constant drug dealing and
boarded-up houses,” she said. “Many people walk around with
the [gang] flags hanging out of their pockets. I hope that
they [the city government] will do something about it, but
they have not in the past.”
On Monday night, Helen Desfosses, president of the Albany
Common Council, told the girls who spoke at the council meeting
that their suggestions were the best ideas the council had
heard all year.
But many of the girls said they would like to see their elected
officials put some action behind their words.
makes me sad that this is my neighborhood,” said Ginyard.
“I grew up here. And people tell people not to move here because
it is dirty and not safe.”
lead: Rodney Davis, director of the Arbor Hill Environmental
Justice Corporation. Photo by Joe
Hill group files suit charging that city’s lead-paint abatement
professionals are not properly certified
like going to the doctor, and expecting that doctor to have
a certain amount of training and experience and licensing,”
said Rodney Davis. “And come to find out, he doesn’t have
any of those things at all.”
Davis, executive director of the Arbor Hill Environmental
Justice Corporation, was comparing the fake-doctor scenario
to what he charged is the widespread use of improperly credentialed
contractors for lead-abatement projects in the city of Albany.
Yesterday (Wednesday), Arbor Hill Environmental Justice, in
conjunction with the Natural Resources Defense Council, filed
a lawsuit against the city of Albany alleging that the city
violated the Toxic Substances Control Act by using unqualified
lead contractors and failing to comply with work-practice
standards set forth by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
In the spring of 2000, the city of Albany received a $2 million
grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
to conduct lead-paint abatement work in low-income housing
projects. The work, however, is subject to EPA regulations,
which requires all lead contractors, risk assessors and inspectors
to be certified and trained in accordance with EPA standards.
The workers must undergo training and testing to insure that
they are knowledgeable of and skilled in the proper removal
of lead paint so as to protect the health and safety of the
Exposure to lead is linked to a number of serious health problems,
especially in children, such as damage to the nervous system,
brain injuries, learning disabilities and behavioral problems.
Although the Consumer Product Safety Commission banned lead-based
paint in 1978, a number of children living in older homes
are still at risk for exposure from chipping or peeling lead
paint, or by inhaling excessive amounts of lead-contaminated
Davis said that his organization found, by obtaining numerous
documents from HUD, the city of Albany and the EPA, that many
workers did not have the necessary training or certification
to do lead- abatement work, therefore putting the health of
many people at risk.
you do a lead abatement incorrectly, you can spread the dust
around and make the situation worse,” said Davis.
Joseph Montana, director of housing and community development
for the city of Albany, said that these statements are absolutely
have one of the best lead-paint programs in the country,”
Montana said, describing the city’s lead-abatement program
as a model for HUD. “The stories and allegations that we are
not certified are absolutely false. People continue to want
to turn something good into something bad, and it just is
Montana said that in February of this year, Davis went before
the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights with these same allegations.
As a result, the city had to prove to HUD that its program
was not in violation of the standards set down by the EPA.
have the facts, they have the allegations,” said Montana.
“We followed all the regulations by the EPA and by HUD.”
Brian Sullivan, spokesman for HUD, said that his organization
was satisfied with the documents that the city of Albany provided.
In fact, one month after Davis testified before the Commission
on Human Rights, David Jacobs, the director of the HUD Office
of Healthy Homes and Lead Hazard Control, went before the
commission to rebut Davis’ statements.
core mission is to protect the health and safety of these
children,” said Sullivan. “If we have any indication that
that isn’t happening, then we respond. But there is no indication
that those conditions prevail in Albany.”
But Davis said that his organization now has the paperwork
to back up its claims.
Michelle Alvarez, National Resources Defense Council staff
attorney, said that since March of 2000 it was required that
all workers be certified through the EPA. However, many of
the city’s lead workers, including the city’s inspectors and
risk assessors, did not have these certifications. And the
ones who were certified didn’t receive their credentials until
December of 2001. As a result, some standards were not followed
while workers removed or contained lead-based paint from in
a number of homes. For example, Alvarez points out that the
workers did not take soil samples to test the levels of lead
in the ground, nor did they prepare written occupant-protection
plans for some of the houses.
City of Albany grossly mismanaged this program, consistently
flouting EPA safety regulations at the expense of children
in low-income housing,” said Alvarez.
Louis Bevilacqua, regional lead coordinator for the EPA, said
that although the EPA is the agency that oversees the lead
program for New York state, there are some loopholes in the
law that allow workers not to be certified. For example, when
HUD is working on a project on which it costs less than $25,000
per unit to do the lead removal, HUD doesn’t need to call
that job an abatement, but rather, a partial abatement. Therefore
the workers need not be certified. Further, Bevilacqua added,
if the purpose of the work is to modernize the space or renovate
it, even if lead paint is being removed, it is not required
to call this abatement either.
you don’t use the word abatement, then you don’t need to certify
people,” said Bevilacqua. “This is where a lot of people get
But, Alvarez said that it would be very difficult, if not
impossible, for the city of Albany to use these loopholes
since the word “abatement” appears in many of the documents
that she has looked at.
But Montana insisted that the city has not violated any laws.
is a nationally noted program,” said Montana. “In less than
five years we have done over 500 housing units. We are one
of three cities that received $3 million to do this. That’s
the max you could have gotten for a lead-paint grant which
was awarded in January of this year.”
have good laws and regulations to protect the community while
removing this hazard,” said Aaron Mair, president of the Arbor
Hill Concerned Citizens Neighborhood Association. “But the
city took the federal money and then betrayed the public trust.”