The city of Spokane has more than $3 million in federal money to pay to reduce lead hazards in low-income homes, and it’s ready to start spending.
Its Lead Safe Spokane program provides low-interest loans that mostly turn into grants – about 75 percent of each loan is forgiven.
“We’re looking for people to get into the pipeline,” said Paul Trautman, housing program administrator for the city’s Community Development Department.
Risk factors for lead poisoning overlap in areas throughout Spokane, Trautman said, where low-income families with children younger than 6 are living in old housing.
Homes built before 1978 are more likely to have dangerous lead paint, because that’s when the government banned it in homes. Less likely to pay for repairs on their own, families in poverty are considered especially at risk, Trautman said.
And children younger than 6 are most susceptible to poisoning from lead, which can cause learning and behavior problems years later. Their bodies mistake it for calcium, absorbing it into their bones.
Lead Safe Spokane seeks applications from low-income homeowners as well as landlords who rent to low-income families.
The program loans an average of $11,500 for workers to fix lead-based paint hazards. The loans start with a 3 percent fixed rate, but most of the loan essentially becomes a grant – 75 percent is forgiven over three years, Trautman said.
Near the start of the process, a free assessment identifies any lead-paint hazards, and workers propose repairs. They might be to replace interior or exterior paint or install new siding, windows or doors. In some cases, the danger lies where old paint has chipped or spread as dust, accumulating in soil or carpet. In those cases, the soil might be treated or the carpet replaced.
It’s up to homeowners to approve any work as well as the contractors who do it. The city program is managed by Kiemle & Hagood Co., a real estate company.
The program is expected to be ready to start work this week after months of planning. It was in March when the city received a $2.4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to reduce lead-paint hazards in low-income homes – the city’s third such grant. It received another $1 million to repair homes in the county.
Under two earlier grants, the city resolved lead problems in 443 homes.
The program also offers lead testing for children. Lead poisoning can be difficult to detect initially. The symptoms don’t usually appear until dangerous amounts have built up in children’s bodies.
Trautman said 81 percent of the homes in Spokane were built before 1978.
Lead-based paint was considered a great paint back then, said Shannon Meagher, Kiemle & Hagood’s director of community development. The metal made the paint very durable.
But it fails as it ages, as can layers of non-lead paint on top of it. Or friction – maybe through sanding – creates dust that gets trapped in carpet and elsewhere.
“It’s the dust in the house coming off the paint as the paint ages,” said Lauren Jenks, an epidemiologist for the state Department of Health who has specialized in lead-poisoning prevention. “As the sun hits it, as the door opens and closes, that dust comes off and it poisons kids.”
Dust is also generated during renovations – maybe a wall got knocked down during a past project, and the dust got tracked around or sucked into the heating system and conveyed throughout the home.
While the grants awarded last spring will pay for lead-paint abatement through the Lead Safe Spokane program, the city offers other home rehabilitation programs that address lead problems.
Because the city’s Housing Rehabilitation Program also receives HUD funding, it’s subject to laws requiring strict practices to prevent the spread of lead paint and mitigate hazards related to old paint.
That program provides up to $35,000 in 3 percent loans to low- and moderate-income homeowners for basic repairs and improvements to their homes. In most cases, these loans require no payments for at least the first three years.