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New Haven homeowner stuck with lead abatement lien long after expiration date

In 2016, Gaylia Bennett, a homeowner and realtor, received a lead abatement grant for her owner-occupied multi-family home on Howard Avenue in New Haven. Almost immediately after receiving the forgivable loan, the city placed a lien on her home which was set to expire after five years and completion of the lead abatement work.

However, more than six years later and after having completed all the lead removal in 2017, according to publicly available documents, Bennett was still stuck with a lien on the property and seemingly no one at the city’s health department could help her.

“Nothing has happened,” Bennett said. “They just don’t care. When you have the power, you can sort of do what you want and there’s no repercussions. What can I do? I just want them to take it off my house.”

Bennett says she initially became interested in the federally backed lead abatement grant program after her grandson came down with lead poisoning. Under the terms of the loan, the loan is forgiven if the homeowner retains ownership of the home for five years and completes the work. A lien for the funds is placed on the home, which is then decreased by 20 percent each year.

However, after reaching the five-year mark in October of 2021, the lien remained on her home. Bennett says that she allowed time for city officials to make the change but come December of 2021 she began emailing city officials at the New Haven Department of Health to inquire about the lien removal.

“I didn’t think it was my job to do that, so I waited,” Bennett said. 

She was eventually informed she needed to provide a $60 check to cover the fee for removing the lien, which she did in May of 2022. Bennett says the check wasn’t cashed and the lien remained on her home.

Email communications with city officials provided by Bennett show her requests being passed back and forth between different employees, generally telling her she needs to reach out to someone else and Bennett grew frustrated.

According to emails, Raphael Ramos, program director for the City of New Haven’s Department of Public Health Environmental Health section argued that Bennett’s grant was modified in 2017, extending her grant forgiveness until October of 2022. The adjustment was made, according to Bennett, because she converted the house from a two-family to a three-family, increasing the size of the grant for lead removal. 

However, Bennett says another employee who initially worked with Bennett on obtaining the grant said that was not the case and the expiration date should have remained October of 2021. According to the modification document, aside of the amount of the grant, “all terms and conditions of the Loan Documents remain unchanged,” leaving the lien to be released in October of 2021, according to the original agreement. 

Bennett also questions why, if the lien was extended until October of 2022, did the city ask her to bring a check to release the lien in May of 2022.

“No one is held accountable for anything, that’s what I think. They really don’t care, it’s just the honest truth,” Bennett said. “I don’t think that them not caring or not wanting to do their job should affect me. I think that I did what I was supposed to do and now it is up to them to do what they’re supposed to do. I’ve been waiting a year and half for them to release the lien on my house and it’s to no avail.”

According to a property records search, the lien on Bennett’s home was removed on March 15, 2023, just days after Bennett reached out to CT Inside Investigator and nearly a year and a half after the completion of the terms of the loan. CII informed Bennett of the release and she was surprised because she had not heard anything from the city nor the officials she was contacting to find out about the lien.

Bennett’s grant was part of the Lead Based Paint Hazard Reduction Grant program for which the city received $3.2 million in 2015 from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. It was the sixth such grant at the time, according to city documents obtained by the New Haven Independent.

However, the city was denied another grant in 2018 because they had not met bench-mark goal for treating 200 homes in New Haven, according to the Independent The following year the city did receive an additional $5.6 million for lead abatement after working things out with the federal agency. The city has been pushing the removal of lead from homes as it can affect child development, including brain damage.

In response, the city has hired more inspectors and launched the New Haven Blood Lead Case Dashboard. The figures presented on the dashboard only go back to 2019 and also show the numbers of home treated for lead abatement, with 19 abatements completed within the last six months.

However, Bennett says lax follow-through regarding the liens placed on homes that receive those lead abatement grants could cause homeowners headaches down the line, particularly if they are not as diligent as she.

“It can’t just be with me, because I’m actually taking the initiative,” Bennett said. “I can just imagine if someone has it on their home and that person is not talking to anyone or calling anyone to get it done, it probably will sit there for a year or two, but it only takes a week for them to put it on your house when you get the money.”

Requests for comment to Ramos regarding the number of lead abatement liens in New Haven were not returned. 

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Marc E. Fitch, Senior Investigative Reporter

Marc E. Fitch

Marc worked as an investigative reporter for Yankee Institute and was a 2014 Robert Novak Journalism Fellow. He previously worked in the field of mental health is the author of several books and novels, along with numerous freelance reporting jobs and publications. Marc has a Master of Fine Arts degree from Western Connecticut State University.

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