CLEVELAND, Ohio – Two members of Cleveland City Council say that a request by the Lead Safe Cleveland Coalition for $17.5 million of Cleveland’s money from the American Rescue Plan is too small and should be doubled.
Board members for the coalition, appearing before the council’s Health and Human Services Committee on Monday, said the money could be used as a challenge grant to leverage another $17.5 million from private sources.
It would go toward a goal of raising $99.4 million to address lead in Cleveland’s housing stock over five years.
“I can’t think of a better investment of the American Rescue Plan dollars than in the Lead Safe Cleveland Coalition,” said Kerry McCormack, the chair of the committee.
“I think $17 [million] is too low. I think you should ask for the full amount at $35 [million],” McCormack said. “We’re talking about the physical and cognitive wellbeing of our kids and whether they thrive in school and whether they are able to achieve their God-given potential.”
A few minutes later, Councilwoman Jenny Spencer, a member of the health committee, said she, too, would support a larger request.
“I would concur,” Spencer said. “Come in with a $35 million ask and I would be supportive of that as well.”
The coalition is a group of more than 450 members working with Cleveland to address lead poisoning in children, often caused by chipping paint.
Ninety percent of Cleveland’s housing stock was built before 1978, the year that use of lead in paint was outlawed. Lead poisoning among children in Cleveland is more than four times the national average.
The impact can be severe, causing brain damage that can lead to behavioral problems and low IQs, anemia and damage to kidneys and the nervous system.
In 2019, Cleveland approved the Lead Safe Cleveland ordinance, which mandates landlords register their property with the city and obtain certification that their properties are lead safe by 2022.
The coalition works with those landlords as a one-stop shop for lead-safe resources and training and referrals for help with lead abatement on their properties.
So far, the coalition has raised more than $42 million from public and private sources toward that $99.4 million goal, said Marcia Egbert of the George Gund Foundation who chairs Lead Safe Cleveland’s resource development committee.
“We believe the American rescue Plan offers a once in a generation opportunity, much like the lead safe certification law offers a once in a generation opportunity to tackle the beast of lead poisoning,” Egbert said.
Use of the money toward lead abatement programs would be in line with federal regulations that call on cities to target the American Rescue Plan dollars toward those most-disproportionately hit by the coronavirus pandemic.
Cleveland is to get more than $511 million over two years. Mayor Frank Jackson recently outlined broadly how he expects the city will spend the money – targeting it at programs that will help individuals and businesses.
The Lead Safe Coalition’s request was the first to be made to the city in an open council meeting. It would use the money to provide grants to landlords for improving their properties, Egbert said.
Already the coalition has committed more than $435,000 toward improving property and abating lead in rental units. The money is offered through loans or grants when the landlord cannot obtain a loan.
Many landlords are in that position, said Daniel Cohn of the Mt. Sinai Foundation.
“Most landlords are mom-and-pop operations,” Cohn said, noting that they often live on one floor of their property and rent out another floor to tenants.
“What we know is really clear. Locally in Cleveland the primary driver of lead exposure, bar none, is lead paint – lead hazards based on paint in and around the home,” Cohn said. “And we also know … that the majority of lead poisoning cases happen as a result of rental housing.”
Of the $99.4 million budgeted for five years, about $40 million is expected to be distributed in loans and $40 million is to be spent as grants, said Mark McDermott of Enterprise Community Partners. The balance would cover the program’s administrative costs and some initial landlord costs, such as for lead testing.
But the coalition is still working to raise that total.
“We have a problem with a solution,” Egbert said. The request for American Rescue Plan dollars is “not just to have the tote board go up higher.
“We’ve got a clear plan. We’ve got clear data,” Egbert said. “We have babies and toddlers who just can’t wait.”
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