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HUD Passes over Cleveland and Cuyahoga County for Lead Removal Dollars

Bart Everson / Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/
Bart Everson / Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

In Northeast Ohio, kids in the city of Cleveland and some inner-ring suburbs are most at risk for lead poisoning.

Since the mid 1990s, Cleveland has been among cities receiving millions of dollars in federal grants from HUD to deal with the problem. The money’s used in part for lead removal.

But it’s hard to know exactly how many houses still have lead in them.

"Thousands, it’s in the thousands," said Angela Shuckahosee, director of the Cleveland Tenants Organization.

She said Cleveland’s program is too reactionary, responding after a child may already have been put at risk. And she said some tenants don’t want to report lead problems.

"Particularly in (the) lower income community, sometimes they feel it is easier just to walk away and get out of that situation than to actually hold the landlord accountable," she said.

In 2012, HUD took grant money away from the city, saying it wasn’t spending the cash fast enough. Cleveland had a chance to reapply last year and lost. The same thing happened this year.

Cleveland City Councilman Joe Cimperman, the chair of council's health committee, called it a "slap in the face" from the feds. He held a council hearing on lead this week.

"But to be truthful, even if we got the funding, it wouldn’t be enough," he said. "And we know that, because even with the funding we've been getting, we're still struggling with keeping the numbers down."

The numbers are falling, but statewide they’ve begun leveling off in recent years, and occurrences of elevated blood lead levels Cuyahoga County are higher than the statewide rate of one percent.

The city didn’t respond to follow-up calls to explain the program further, but Chantez Williams, the city's environmental health commissioner, told council this week the city is working on new ways to test more houses for lead. Those steps included inspecting houses for lead before clearing them for new renters after a landlord evicts tenants -- as well as checking for paint chips when following up on other housing code complaints.

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