Family of DC girl with severe lead poisoning struggling to find new housing, facing homelessness

- Back in February, FOX 5 told you about a 2-year-old D.C. girl who has severe lead poisoning because of lead paint chips found throughout the family's apartment. Heavenz Luster's family was renting the apartment using D.C. housing vouchers.

The Luster family has since moved from the building and are about to be homeless because no one will rent to them and the city will no longer pay for temporary hotels.

Attorneys with the Children's Law Center, who are representing the family, said this is a systemic problem and landlords are not supposed to discriminate against families who have housing vouchers. But they said it is still happening.

“We're not the only ones I know,” said Crystal Luster, Heavenz’s mother. “We may be the only one with this particular situation, but I know that there are other families that go through this and they just give up.”

But giving up would mean Crystal and her five children, including Heavenz, would be homeless. The 2-year-old girl suffered the severe lead poisoning case in a home they were renting with D.C. housing vouchers. It is a home the city signed off on because it passed inspection.

D.C. has not had such a severe lead poisoning case in decades, and in the five months since, the Luster family has been unable to find a new home.

“She has looked at more than three dozen apartments,” said Judith Sandalow, the executive director for the Children’s Law Center. “The problem is that when landlords hear that she has a government-funded voucher, they refuse to rent to her.”

In a statement, the District of Columbia Housing Authority told FOX 5 in part:

"We have gone beyond our typical protocols and have paid for their hotel costs during the past several months when no one else would."

The family has been told there is no more money for them. While it has been difficult packing up their few belongings and moving nearly every single week, living on the streets or in a shelter would be worse.

“Honestly, I fight every day for my child to get her therapy, for my children to be able to graduate on time, for my other two children to get to school,” said Crystal. “It is rough and I deal with my own medical issues too.”

According the Children's Law Center, the real problem is a systemic violation of the law no one is enforcing.

“It is against the law to refuse housing to someone based on their source of income and that law is in particular to protect low income families who have government vouchers,” said Sandalow.

As the months pass, Heavenz has had some improvements in her lead levels and health. But she is not the only one in the family who is sick.

“I have sickle cell disease, I have multiple myeloma and I have seizure disorders,” Crystal said. “And I have had a few seizures from having to move or just from going through the stress of doing one thing, going to different places every week or just not knowing. It has been stressful.”

The D.C. Housing Authority also said in their statement:

"…DCHA would prefer to have the family stay at one hotel, however the hotels have had pre-existing reservations and could not accommodate the rooms the family needs.

"Some of these landlords chose not to house the family due to circumstances unrelated to the voucher, and the family has turned down some units offered to them.”

The Lusters said they have only turned down one house in one neighborhood where they were victims of a crime and subsequent harassment.

They hope landlords will see this story and reach out to the Children's Law Center about rentals that will accommodate their family of seven.

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