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Cleveland Anti-Lead Poisoning Group Requests Stimulus Funds From City

The Lead Safe Cleveland Coalition is seeking $17.5 million in federal stimulus funds to help landlords remove lead paint hazards from homes. [ideastream file photo
The Lead Safe Cleveland Coalition is seeking $17.5 million in stimulus to help landlords remove lead paint hazards from homes.

Cleveland has begun certifying rental properties under the lead-safe housing law passed in 2019, as advocates seek federal dollars to help landlords afford to remediate the toxic paint that’s found in many Northeast Ohio homes. 

The law requires landlords to certify with the city that their properties are safe from chipped or peeling lead paint. Cleveland is rolling out the rules a few ZIP codes at a time, starting in March of this year and running through the end of 2022.

So far, the city has received about 217 applications for lead-safe status, Building and Housing Director Ayonna Blue Donald told Cleveland City Council on Monday. The city has issued only about 97 certificates, she said.

“We fully anticipated thousands of lead safe certifications the first quarter,” Donald said. “We’re less than a hundred. So that’s the stark reality that enforcement is near for many landlords.”

Enforcement will come in the form of a reminder, followed by a ticket, she said.

The city plans to send out a mailer to landlords soon explaining how to have homes inspected for lead hazards and certified as safe, Donald said.

At Monday’s meeting, the Lead Safe Cleveland Coalition – the collection of foundations and nonprofits helping the city with the lead program – requested $17.5 million from Cleveland’s American Rescue Plan allocation.

Coalition member Marcia Egbert, a program director for the Gund Foundation, told council that the coalition would try to double that money with private investment, using it to fund lead remediation grants for landlords.

Reducing childhood lead poisoning is a worthy use for a slice of Cleveland’s $511 million in stimulus funds, she said.

“It’s hard for us to imagine a greater long-term benefit than changing the life trajectory of our youngest residents, starting with infants and toddlers,” Egbert said.

The funding would help the coalition’s Lead Safe Home Fund reach its $99.4 million goal for grants and loans for property owners. To date, the group has raised about $42 million in cash and pledges, Egbert said.

The demand for assistance is growing as the coalition and city reach out to landlords, CHN Housing Partners Executive Director Kevin Nowak said. So far, the fund has approved 51 projects and committed $437,000 in assistance for landlords.

The coalition’s Lead Safe Resource Center, managed by the nonprofit Environment Health Watch, has been working to train property owners and contractors on lead-safe practices.

“We’re confident that we do have the workforce to meet the needs of the certification demand, and that list is growing,” EHW Executive Director Kim Foreman said.

Many Cleveland landlords are mom-and-pop operations, Daniel Cohn with the Mt. Sinai Foundation told council – meaning they’ll likely need financial help to comply with the city’s lead law.

“In many cases, they, frankly, live on one floor and rent out the other,” he said. “They are living in the same dilapidated conditions, frankly, that they are renting out. And that’s exactly what the lead safe home fund is supposed to support.”

Nick Castele was a senior reporter covering politics and government for Ideastream Public Media. He worked as a reporter for Ideastream from 2012-2022.