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Cleveland's Lead Safe Home Fund crosses $100 million mark

Cleveland City Council President Blaine Griffin and Mayor Justin Bibb enter the City Hall rotunda to announce funding for clearing lead paint hazards. [Nick Castele / Ideastream Public Media]
Cleveland City Council President Blaine Griffin and Mayor Justin Bibb enter the City Hall rotunda to announce funding for clearing lead paint hazards.

Cleveland’s coalition to prevent lead poisoning has raised about $115 million to clear lead paint hazards from city homes.

The Lead Safe Cleveland Coalition reached that milestone thanks to a $50 million commitment from the Cleveland Clinic and a pledge from the city to spend $17 million in federal stimulus dollars.

Mayor Justin Bibb, Council President Blaine Griffin, Cleveland Clinic CEO Tom Mihaljevic and United Way CEO Augie Napoli announced the fundraising haul at City Hall Thursday afternoon.

For years, the city distributed limited funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development mainly after a child tested positive for lead poisoning in a home. The city’s new lead certification program, passed in 2019, is meant to proactively clear lead hazards from rentals before a child gets sick.

Preventing lead poisoning, which causes cognitive damage in children, can lead to more health care savings down the road, Mihaljevic said.

“I cannot think of a greater return on investment for any public healthcare issue in this country than lead poisoning,” he said. “But this is really not about saving money. This is about saving children and our communities.”

Last year, the coalition requested $17 million from the city’s American Rescue Plan Act allocation. Bibb and Griffin made clear Thursday that they would honor that ask. The council president said all council members had committed to supporting the funding.

“We want to ensure people who need the help get it,” Griffin said. “We want to make capital available to property owners and neighborhoods that have experienced historical disinvestment.”

But the money is only the first step. Cleveland will need a bigger workforce of lead inspectors and contractors to certify properties as lead safe and make needed improvements to the city’s aging housing stock.

Bibb said his administration was committed to building up that workforce. The mayor plans to hire a senior strategist on lead to give the city a “unified approach” on the topic. The city has received applications and will hire someone “relatively soon,” Bibb said.  

“For a while, we’ve gotten really used to thinking that brick-and-mortar real estate projects will be the panacea to Cleveland’s problems,” the mayor said. “And today’s investment shows that investing in people is the surest thing we can do to make sure that Cleveland can be that city of opportunity that can work for everybody.”

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