Detroit receives $9.7M to address lead paint in homes

Candice Williams
The Detroit News

Detroit — Hundreds of low-income families with children in southwest Detroit will receive help removing hazardous lead paint from their homes as early as next spring.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced Thursday it awarded $9.7 million in grants to the city of Detroit, the largest single amount awarded to a local government for lead abatement efforts.

The funding will help 450 homeowners living in zip code 48209, a southwest neighborhood with 75 percent of its houses built in the 1940s or earlier, said Mayor Mike Duggan. He was joined by HUD and city officials for the announcement Thursday at nonprofit Urban Neighborhood Initiatives.

The funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development will help homeowners living in zip code 48209, a southwest neighborhood with 75 percent of its houses built in the 1940s or earlier, Mayor Mike Duggan said.

“Think about the low-income owners,” he said. “This is who this is for. … It could be $10,000, $20,000, to remove lead from a house. If you have children in the house, that could put you out of a house. …We have to find a way to help folks and save our housing stock. Nobody wants to have to deal with families leaving.”

The Detroit Health Department will run the program and post information in January for potential homeowners. Duggan said the city expects to begin work on the first set of houses before the end of spring.

“This is a great area with great housing stock, and it’s another neighborhood that’s going to get a whole lot stronger because of our partnership with the federal government,” he said.

HUD has awarded more than $314 million in funding to 77 state and local government agencies and six tribes. Other Michigan cities awarded funding were Warren with $1.3 million grant and Grand Rapids with a $4.2 million grant.

The city of Detroit received the largest amount for a local government, said Joseph Galvan, HUD Midwest Regional Administrator.

The award includes $9.1 million for a lead-based paint hazard reduction grant program and $600,000 in supplemental funding to address housing-related health and safety hazards, including mold, allergens, carbon monoxide and radon in addition to lead-based paint hazards. The city will perform healthy homes assessments in 120 homes and work with medical and social service providers, Galvan said.

“This is a historic investment that will help protect children and families in low-income housing from lead-based paint and home health hazards…” he said.

“We at HUD, we understand the importance of the intersection between health and housing, and we are deeply committed to protecting families and children across the City of Detroit and the State of Michigan so they can reach their full potential.”

During the past 20 years, the number of children living in the city with elevated blood lead levels has fallen by 90 percent, from 16,159 reported cases in 1998 to 1,632 cases in 2017, according to Michigan Department of Health and Human Services data provided by the city. Duggan said that while progress has been made, there remain too many older homes that pose risks. 

In 2017, there were 51 children living in the grant's focus area identified with elevated blood lead levels, said Carla Bezold, chief epidemiologist for the Detroit Health Department.

The federal funding will address lead paint and dust, which is the biggest risk for lead poisoning, said Denise Fair, chief public health officer for the Detroit Health Department.

"When a small child gets lead dust or paint chips on their hands, which many put in their mouths, that's the primary reason why they're getting exposed," she said. "And when lead paint in the house cracks or peels it can create lead dust. Approximately 90 percent of all elevated blood lead levels results from lead paint dust and surrounding soil in those aging homes."

Fair said her department will do door-to-door outreach educating residents and in-home lead testing. She encourages residents to have their children under six years old tested annually. 

City Councilwoman Raquel Castañeda-López said she appreciates the HUD funding for the neighborhood where she grew up, which she notes is a strong, dense area with a large multi-generational immigrant population.

As one of eight children raised by a widowed mother, Castañeda-López said she knows what it’s like to grow up in a home with lead. She recalled neighbors getting lead poisoning from soil contaminated with chipped paint.

“This is something that is very personal for myself, my neighbors and I think many people in this community that understand the struggles of growing up in poverty,” she said.

Twitter: @CWilliams_DN