Pugh wants answers from Baltimore Housing
Baltimore Sen. Cathy Pugh is demanding that the city's housing department develop a plan to pay judgments owed to Baltimore residents poisoned by lead paint in city houses -- and is threatening to hold up about $17 million in funding until the report is finished.
A drafting error in Pugh's amendment held up the vote for now, but several senators, including GOP leader Nancy Jacobs, stood up to support it during a brief debate. The vote is expected in about an hour or so.
Pugh is offering an amendment to the state's capital budget that would stop funds for planning a controversial youth detention center in Baltimore city until the report is issued. There have been rumors flying in Annapolis that Pugh is gunning to challenge Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and today's move, with its implicit criticism of city government, could be the first step.
Pugh acknowledged that the amendment is largely symbolic: The youth facility is already on delay.
The Sun's Scott Calvert reported on Sunday that Baltimore's housing authority is refusing to make good on any of nine court judgments totaling nearly $12 million, even though in some cases it agreed to the dollar amount or lost an appeal.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake concurred with the housing authority's position, telling The Sun: "It is not possible" to make the payments.
Since 2005 the city's housing agency has spent $3.8 million defending against lead paint cases, trying a succession of courtroom strategies that one plaintiff's lawyer likened to legal Whac-A-Mole. The authority's lawyers have argued that it is immune to lawsuits. They've argued it's too strapped to be sued. They've argued most of its assets are federal and therefore off limits. They've been accused in court of stalling.
City Housing Commissioner Paul T. Graziano acknowledges the lasting damage caused by lead-based paint. But legal arguments aside, he says the agency – the fifth-largest housing authority in the country, with a $300 million annual budget, according to its website – simply cannot afford to pay. Besides the judgments already entered against it, the housing authority faces 175 additional lead-paint cases whose potential claims exceed $800 million.