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Problems prevent lead abatement program from advancing

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 3/15/2019, 6 a.m.
Daniel Mouer has $2.7 million to spend on removing hazardous lead paint lingering in Richmond residences more than 40 years ...

Daniel Mouer has $2.7 million to spend on removing hazardous lead paint lingering in Richmond residences more than 40 years after it was banned.

But the project development manager at City Hall is struggling to find landlords and homeowners willing to let him do the work using money awarded to the city in 2017 by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

As of Feb. 23, lead removal has been completed on 10 homes, Mr. Mouer said, well short of the 50 residences that were supposed to be completed in the first 12 months of the grant that became active in March 2018.

Mr. Mouer said the program has spent $10,000 to $20,000 per residence to abate the lead hazard, including repainting walls and replacing windows and doors.

The shortage of homes has made it harder to offer training to small contractors seeking to earn state certification in lead remediation to compete for jobs. “We haven’t had the work,” Mr. Mouer said.

However, in response to contractor complaints, the city is planning to hold its first lead supervisor training class for contractors and construction managers who want to operate certified lead paint abatement companies or to do the work for someone else.

The four-day program being offered without charge will be held Monday, March 25, through Thursday, March 28, at the East District Initiative Building, 701 N. 25th St., it has been announced

Participants are required to register and pre-qualify with the training host, the Office of Community Wealth Building, to attend the 34 hours of training, according to Sherrilyn Hicks, the OCWB employment specialist who is taking applications.

The city promised to remove lead hazards from 150 homes when it was awarded the grant. But at the current pace, that might never happen, Mr. Mouer acknowledged.

He said HUD is not allowing him to reduce that promised number.

Mr. Mouer said he has done everything he could think of to get the word out. He has sent out information on the grant funding in utility bills, highlighted it using the city’s social media and other messaging. He has attended community and civic association meetings and elsewhere to promote the program.

“So far, nothing has worked,” he said. “When I talk with people in other communities with grants, they are just as puzzled as I am at the lack of response.”

To help, the Department of Housing and Community Development has temporarily assigned a member of its staff, James E. “J.J.” Minor III, who also serves as president of the Richmond Branch NAACP, to assist with outreach.

There are some strict guidelines to qualify for grant funding. Homeowners and tenants have to meet the low-income requirements, and the household must include a child under age 4 or a pregnant woman, among other things.

However, Mr. Mouer said he has not had much luck even when there are qualifying people and the residence is identified with a lead hazard after a child’s blood test shows high levels of lead.

Tenants express worry about being evicted or having their rent go up after the work is done, he said, while landlords express concern about lawsuits, even though the program addresses both concerns and there is a state law granting immunity to property owners involved in lead abatement.