Compromise saves Cleveland’s $17m lead safety law: Stimulus Watch

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CLEVELAND, Ohio — Following a heated Cleveland City Council committee meeting last week, legislation to prevent lead poisoning in children is back on track.

The $17 million legislation — funded by American Rescue Plan Act dollars and originally passed in May — was amended and passed by the finance, diversity, equity and inclusion committee on Monday and is expected to be passed at a Monday evening council meeting.

The amended legislation would provide $13 million to the Lead Safe Cleveland Coalition for loans/grants to make homes lead-free, train lead safety professionals, and conduct testing; $3 million for severely lead-poisoned properties not covered by a US Housing and Urban Development Grant and $1 million for lead-related code enforcement.

In May, the Cleveland City Council had approved allocating the same amount, $17 million, to lead safety programs — the city’s contribution to the coalition’s $111 million budget. But the legislation did not include money to deal more thoroughly with the most severely lead-contaminated homes.

Last week’s controversy stemmed from Mayor Justin Bibb’s attempt to rectify that by withdrawing $5.5 million already pledged to the primary security coalition and reallocating it to the most severely lead-contaminated properties.

The new proposal allocates $3 million to these severely contaminated properties.

One of the reasons city officials are looking to change how $3 million of the money will be spent is that HUD grants that pay for some lead safety efforts amount to $20,000. , and that just won’t be enough for many seriously lead-contaminated homes, said Alyssa Hernandez, Cleveland’s director of development.

“That’s where kids are actively poisoned or have been poisoned,” Hernandez said of homes that were severely lead contaminated.

“We know our need doesn’t fit in the box that HUD provides us with,” Hernandez said.

The main purpose of the legislation is to prevent lead poisoning in children. Lead pollution causes children to develop long-term behavior problems, learning difficulties, stunted growth, hearing problems and more. Pregnant women exposed to high levels of lead are also at higher risk of miscarriage, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

That’s why the coalition plans to make funds available to landlords, landlords and renters of all income levels, with larger grants available for low-income applicants, said Ayonna Blue Donald, vice- president of Enterprise Community Partners and former director of housing for the city.

ARPA’s proposed new $1 million fund would pay two new prosecutors to investigate lead pollution cases over the next three years.

This carrot-and-stick approach to enforcement not only encourages homeowners to apply for lead safety grants, but also discourages them from ignoring lead violations, Blue Donald said.

These enforcement mechanisms, however, will likely face limits as “predatory investors” — many from outside Cleveland — simply refuse to pay taxes, fines, or show up in housing court. .

Despite progress in legislation, questions remain. The Lead Safe Coalition, for example, is still trying to figure out how many properties can be made lead safe with the money it has raised, Blue Donald said.

It’s also unclear why Cleveland has sought to change the legislation now, when it was already approved months ago and had several opportunities to propose these ideas during the months-long legislative process.

Despite those concerns, the legislation received broad support on Monday.

Kerry McCormack, a staunch supporter of lead safety laws, who opposed a separate amendment seeking to recoup $5.5 million in ARPA money last week, voiced his support for the newly introduced amendment.

Councilman Mike Polensek, who said he would have preferred to see the major grants as a revolving loan program, did not voice opposition to the legislation and voted in favor of the amendment.

Last week, the council heard conflicting reports about whether the coalition supported changing the legislation. While the newly proposed amendments, if approved, would cause the coalition to “rework the budget,” Blue Donald said the coalition would be “pleased” to potentially receive ARPA money from the city for lead safety. . Blue Donald sits on the coalition’s steering committee.

Blue Donald encouraged people of all incomes to contact the coalition for more information on how to tackle lead pollution where they live.

Given that 90% of homes in Cleveland were built before the lead paint ban in 1978, “there is a presumption that the vast majority of homes in Cleveland” were built with lead, Blue Donald said. .

Renters, landlords and landlords can call 833-601-LEAD to connect with the coalition about resources available to make or ensure homes are lead-free.

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