Lead Safe Resource Center And Home Fund To Launch in Cleveland
By Rachel Dissell and Brie Zeltner
On Friday, Cleveland residents will have access to a new resource center and hotline dedicated to helping parents and property owners reduce the chances of lead poisoning by making homes in the city lead safe.
The Lead Safe Resource Center and Home Fund fulfill, in part, a public promise that the passage of historic legislation in July 2019 made. The promise was that there would be ample resources for families and for landlords who will have to comply with the city’s lead-safe certificate law starting next year.
Lead is a toxin that, if ingested by children, can damage their developing brains and cause lifelong health, behavior and learning issues.
Research from Case Western Reserve University published this summer found that exposure to high levels of lead at a young age greatly increased the chances of Cleveland school children following a poisoning-to-prison path of school struggles, juvenile crime, adult incarceration and homelessness.
In 2019, the Ohio Department of Health recorded more than 1,000 Cleveland children with levels of lead in their blood requiring a public health response.
In addition to a hotline, the resource center includes a staff of community outreach specialists and access to a set of available grants, loans and incentives to help landlords hire inspectors and do work to eliminate hazards in homes, including painting or replacing windows or doors. It also will train tenants and landlords on how to reduce hazards and protect children from exposure and train people to become part of the workforce that will be needed to inspect thousands of rental units each year.
The resource center staff includes residents who have experience with lead poisoning and community building in Cleveland neighborhoods, said Kim Foreman, executive director of the center and of Environmental Health Watch, the nonprofit that operates it with support from the Lead Safe Cleveland Coalition (LSCC).
Those residents have crafted the center’s approach, she said, which aims to do more than simply deliver information, help people fill out forms, or get training.
“It’s about listening to what people need and connecting them to our outreach team members working in the neighborhoods where they live for ongoing support,” Foreman said.
Fred Ward, who comes from Glenville, one of the neighborhoods hardest hit by lead poisoning, is coordinating those efforts. Two residents whose families were harmed by lead poisoning help answer the hotline and a homeowner who had to tackle a lead issue is an outreach specialist.
Cleveland’s lead safe certification law requires the owners of rental homes built before 1978 to have their properties inspected every two years and provide proof to the city that no lead hazards exist. Cleveland will start processing lead-safe certificates in January, and in March will start to enforce the law a few ZIP codes at a time over the next few years.
“We wanted to make sure that we balanced the areas where more help might be needed for rental properties to get certified,” Cleveland Director of Building and Housing Ayonna Blue Donald said during a recent LSCC meeting.
During a workshop for landlords last month, Blue Donald said the city was on track, hiring enough staff to make sure the certification process was a smooth one.
Landlords who have their property cleared of hazards by a qualified lead inspector or clearance technician can submit documentation to the city online starting Jan. 1.
LSCC, which started raising funds last fall, has $30 million in commitments from government, foundations and private partners. It estimates that $99.4 million is needed to support the resource center and loan fund over the next five years. Fundraising will continue throughout next year.
CHN Housing Partners, the coalition partner charged with managing the grants, loans and incentives to make homes lead safe, has been working with Cleveland landlords and tenants to figure out how much money and support is needed, said CHN Executive Director Kevin Nowak.
Loans of up to $7,500 for eligible property owners, grants up to $7,000 for eligible landlords and a $500 Incentive payment for eligible landlords who achieve their Lead Safe Certification are now available, Nowak said.
Eligibility for grants will be based on a combination of household income and other factors, including the rental property being registered with the city. More information on eligibility and the application process is available on CHN’s website or by calling the hotline.
“At the end of the day this is really about trying to implement a strategy that helps lowerincome people, whether they be tenants or landlords, to not have a significant burden added on by having to do this work,” Nowak said.
The hope is to “meet landlords where they’re at,” said Nowak, recognizing that most landlords in the city are “mom and pop shops.”
The center’s opening Friday, like many things in 2020, is happening differently than planned. The large Euclid Avenue space envisioned for trainings and gatherings will, for now, be used only by appointment, with much of the work happening virtually while COVID-19 safety restrictions are in place. The city also faces other unprecedented problems with the potential for massive evictions and foreclosures in 2021 as pandemic-related moratoriums expire.
Foreman said her team understands the barriers and is facing them head on. Most team members are used to operating in “crisis mode,” she said.
“Our outreach folks never stopped moving,” she said. “They just layered on [personal protective equipment] and kept going.”
The new lead safety law will be enforced by groups of ZIP codes over the next several years. Here are the groupings for the rollout, expected to begin in March:
This story is part of Coping With COVID-19, an ideastream reporting project and local journalism collaborative funded by Third Federal Foundation and University Settlement.