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Housing Chief in Hot Water over Lead

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

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Controversial comments about lead poisoning victims made by a Maryland top housing official have dozens of lawmakers calling for his resignation.

Maryland’s Housing and Community Development Secretary Kenneth C. Holt said he wants to loosen state lead paint poisoning laws due to the potential of abuse by Maryland mothers, numerous reports said.

Remarks at Issue

During a speech Friday (Aug. 14), given at the Maryland Association of Counties Summer Conference in Ocean City, Holt said parents would deliberately poison their children with lead, in order to force landlords into settlements in lead paint lawsuits and obtain free housing, according to reports.

Kenneth C. Holt
Maryland State Archives

Kenneth C. Holt, Maryland's Housing and Community Development Secretary, made controversial lead poisoning comments Friday (Aug. 14).

He reportedly said that a mother could put a lead fishing weight in her child’s mouth and then take the child for lead testing and a landlord would be liable for providing the child with housing until the age of 18.

When pressed about the comments, Holt stated that he did not have evidence of such an occurrence, but was told by a developer it was possible.

The Baltimore Sun reports that Maryland has no provision to provide free housing to poisoned children except when lead abatement work is underway.

Call for Resignation

Thirty Democratic members of the state’s House of Delegates have called on Holt to resign following the speech, calling the comments “incredibly offensive and insensitive to the plight of mothers of children with lead poisoning.”

In a letter sent to Holt, the delegates added, “Your remarks portray a shocking and complete lack of understanding of Maryland law as it relates to landlord’s responsibility.”

A Direct Conversation

Holt’s remarks also prompted a meeting between him and Gov. Larry Hogan, according to a spokesman for the governor.

"Governor Hogan met with Secretary Holt today [Monday] and had a lengthy and very direct conversation about his unfortunate and inappropriate statement," Doug Mayer said in a statement.

Maryland State House
Kevin Galens / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Gov. Larry Hogan and the housing chief had a direct conversation in the wake of the comments.

"The governor expressed his disappointment and directed the secretary to continue reaching out to advocates, legislators and the community as a whole to reassure them of his commitment to the safety and health of all Marylanders.”

The governor’s office also said that the housing official’s comments did not reflect the administration’s policy, but maintained Holt was the right person for the job.

“Over the past 7 months, Secretary Holt has proven himself to be a passionate and competent public servant and the governor remains confident that he can continue to effectively lead this department and serve the people of our state,”

An Apology

The day after the speech Holt expressed regret for his comments and apologized to anyone he offended with the remarks, media outlets reported.

"[Holt’s] statements do not reflect administration or departmental policy,” according to a statement issued by the housing department. “Both the administration and department take the issue of lead poisoning very seriously and will always work to protect the health and safety of Marylanders."

Gov. Hogan appointed Holt as the secretary in January.

   

Tagged categories: Building owners; Housing; Laws and litigation; Lead; Lead Disclosure Rule; Lead Renovation, Repair and Painting Rule (LRRP)

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