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Home sweet home: members of Girls Inc. Photo by Leif Zurmuhlen

Trouble Shooting

Girls Inc. sends schoolgirls on tours of inner-city neighborhoods to find ideas for improving their cities

Star-Asia 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.

“I 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.

“Safety 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.

“I 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.

“It 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.”

—Nancy Guerin

Seeing lead: Rodney Davis, director of the Arbor Hill Environmental Justice Corporation. Photo by Joe Putrock

Heavy Metal

Arbor Hill group files suit charging that city’s lead-paint abatement professionals are not properly certified

‘It’s 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 public.

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 dust.

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.

“If 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 untrue.

“We 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 not there.”

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.

“We 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.

“Our 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.

“The 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.

“If 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 confused.”

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.

“This 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.”

“We 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.”


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