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Lead Safe Resource Center and Home Fund launches

by Rachel Dissell

(Plain Press, January 2021)    Cleveland residents will have access to a new resource center and hotline dedicated to helping parents and property owners reduce the chances of lead poisoning by making homes in the city lead safe.

     The Lead Safe Resource Center and Home Fund fulfill, in part, a public pledge that the passage of historic legislation in July 2019 made. The promise was that there would be ample resources for families and for landlords who will have to comply with the city’s lead-safe certificate law starting in 2021. 

     Lead is a toxin that, if ingested by children, can damage their developing brains and cause lifelong health, behavior and learning issues.

     Research from Case Western Reserve University published this summer found that exposure to high levels of lead at a young age greatly increased the chances of Cleveland school children following a poisoning-to-prison path of school struggles, juvenile crime, adult incarceration and homelessness.

     In 2019, the Ohio Department of Health recorded more than 1,000 Cleveland children with levels of lead in their blood requiring a public health response.

     In addition to a hotline, the resource center includes a staff of community outreach specialists and access to a set of available grants, loans and incentives to help landlords hire inspectors and do work to eliminate hazards in homes, including painting or replacing windows or doors. It also will train tenants and landlords on how to reduce hazards and protect children from exposure and train people to become part of the workforce that will be needed to inspect thousands of rental units each year. 

     The resource center staff includes residents who have experience with lead poisoning and community building in Cleveland neighborhoods, said Kim Foreman, executive director of the center and of Environmental Health Watch, the nonprofit that operates it with support from the Lead Safe Cleveland Coalition (LSCC).

     Those residents have crafted the center’s approach, she said, which aims to do more than simply deliver information, help people fill out forms, or get training.

     “It’s about listening to what people need and connecting them to our outreach team members working in the neighborhoods where they live for ongoing support,” Foreman said. 

     Fred Ward, who comes from Glenville, one of the neighborhoods hardest hit by lead poisoning, is coordinating those efforts. Two residents whose families were harmed by lead poisoning help answer the hotline and a homeowner who had to tackle a lead issue is an outreach specialist.

     Cleveland’s lead safe certification law requires the owners of rental homes built before 1978 to have their properties inspected every two years and provide proof to the city that no lead hazards exist. Cleveland will start processing lead-safe certificates in January, and in March will start to enforce the laws a few ZIP codes at a time over the next few years. 

     “We wanted to make sure that we balanced the areas where more help might be needed for rental properties to get certified,” Cleveland Director of Building and Housing Ayonna Blue Donald said during a recent LSCC meeting. 

     During a workshop for landlords last month, Blue Donald said the city was on track, hiring enough staff to make sure the certification process was a smooth one. 

     Landlords who have their property cleared of hazards by a qualified lead inspector or clearance technician can submit documentation to the city online starting Jan. 1, 2021 

     LSCC, which started raising funds last fall, has $30 million in commitments from government, foundations and private partners. It estimates that $99.4 million is needed to support the resource center and loan fund over the next five years. Fundraising will continue throughout this year. 

     CHN Housing Partners, the coalition partner charged with managing the grants, loans and incentives to make homes lead safe, has been working with Cleveland landlords and tenants to figure out how much money and support is needed, said CHN Executive Director Kevin Nowak. 

     Loans of up to $7,500 for eligible property owners, grants up to $7,000 for eligible landlords and a $500 Incentive payment for eligible landlords who achieve their Lead Safe Certification are now available, Nowak said. 

     Eligibility for grants will be based on a combination of household income and other factors, including rental being registered with the city. More information on eligibility and the application process is available on CHN’s website or by calling the hotline. 

     “At the end of the day this is really about trying to implement a strategy that helps lower income people, whether they be tenants or landlords, to not have a significant burden added on by having to do this work,” Nowak said. 

     The hope is to “meet landlords where they’re at,” said Nowak, recognizing that most landlords in the city are “mom and pop shops.” 

     The center’s opening, like many things in 2020, is happened differently than planned. The large Euclid Avenue space envisioned for trainings and gatherings will, for now, be used only by appointment, with much of the work happening virtually while COVID-19 safety restrictions are in place. The city also faces other unprecedented problems with the potential for massive evictions and foreclosures in 2021 as pandemic-related moratoriums expire. 

     Foreman said her team understands the barriers and is facing them head on. Most team members are used to operating in “crisis mode,” she said.

     “Our outreach folks never stopped moving,” she said. “They just layered on [personal protective equipment] and kept going.”

Editor’s Note: This story is provided by Ideastream as part of special community coverage of COVID-19 and funded by Third Federal Foundation and University Settlement. For more information about the program call: Lead Safe Hotline:  1-833-601-5323 (LEAD); apply for financial help at: https://chnhousingpartners.org/lead/ ; and visit Lead Safe Cleveland website: https://leadsafecle.org/

Lead Safe Resources

CHN Housing Partners

Website https://chnhousingpartners.org/lead/

Apply online. https://www.tfaforms.com/4859514

Email: lead@chnhousingpartners.org 

Call: 844.614.LEAD (5323)

Lead Safe Resource Center

Website: https://leadsafecle.org/

Email: info@leadsafecle.org

Call: 833.601.LEAD (5323)

LEAD SAFE INCENTIVE, GRANT AND LOAN GUIDE

The Lead Safe Home Fund and Resource Center are run by CHN Housing Partners and Environmental Health Watch, two area nonprofits focused on housing and health. The agencies offer incentives, grants and loans to help remove lead hazards from homes and other training and resources for landlords, families and contractors.

INCENTIVES

A $500 incentive is available for Cleveland properties that are inspected and deemed clear of lead hazards. The incentives can be used as a payment on a loan from the Lead Safe Home Fund or as a rebate to property owners who complete the process of getting the Lead Safe certificate required by the city. Properties must be occupied and have been built prior to 1978. The incentives are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Priority will be given to properties in ZIP codes where the highest proportion of children are lead poisoned and to  “early adopters” who seek lead safe certification in each ZIP code. 

Property owners can apply for one incentive per project or unit, capped at three projects or units per ZIP code. 

Who is eligible?

For-profit and nonprofit property owners and, in some cases, people who own and live in their homes.

Requirements:

• There are no income requirements for the incentives.

•  Applicants must be a U.S. citizen, the permanent resident alien or nonresident alien with a co-applicant who meets the criteria.

•  Rentals must be registered with the city. 

• Applicants must be current on property taxes, fees and charges or be on a payment plan.

•  The owner must have minimum casualty insurance covering the value of the property, as shown on the Cuyahoga County “My Place” website. 

What can the incentives be used for?

•  Cost of lead inspections or clearance tests.

•  Repairs to prevent paint from chipping or peeling or to prevent friction — such as in the opening of doors or windows — from creating dangerous lead dust that can be ingested by children. 

•  Specialized cleaning to remove lead particles. 

If working with CHN Housing Partners: 

•  Work must be identified as essential by an inspector approved by the Lead Safe Home Fund.

•  Work must be completed by Lead Safe Home Fund approved contractors, who are paid directly. 

If working with the Lead Safe Resource Center, managed by Environment Health Watch:

•  Landlords can pick from a list of qualified contractors to do inspections or repairs and get a rebate after work is complete and a Lead Safe certificate is obtained from the city. 

GRANTS

Grants are available to help for-profit and nonprofit landlords and owners who live in their home to eliminate lead hazards and comply with Cleveland’s Lead Safe certificate requirement. 

What can grants be used for?

• Cost of lead inspections or clearance tests.

•  Repairs to prevent paint from chipping or peeling or to prevent friction — such as in the opening of doors or windows — from creating dangerous lead dust that can be ingested by children. 

• Specialized cleaning to remove lead particles.

• Closing costs for loans.  

Which properties are eligible? 

Property owners are eligible for one grant award for each quarter through 2021 based on available funds. 

•  Properties where the landlord and/or the tenant have a yearly income of 200% or less of the Federal Poverty Level, which is $52,000 for a family of four. (See chart below.) The grant is for up to $7,000. It can cover up to 90% of the project per unit.

• Properties where the landlord’s household income is above 200% of the Federal Poverty Level but the tenant’s income is at 200% of the Federal Poverty Level or less. The grant totals up to $500 to cover up to 10% of the project cost per unit.

• Nonprofit landlord properties that lease to tenants with household incomes at 200% of the Federal Poverty Level. The grant totals up to $500 to cover up to 10% of project costs per unit.

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Requirements:

• Applicants must be able to contribute $500 or 10% of total project costs, whichever is less, in cash. 

•  Landlords who get grants greater than $2,000 agree not to raise the rent for existing tenants more than 3% a year. 

• Current tenant leases must remain in effect for a two-year period following the contracted work. 

•  Applicants must be a U.S. citizen, permanent resident alien or nonresident alien with a co-applicant who meets the criteria.

• Rentals must be registered with the city. 

• Applicants must be current on property taxes, fees and charges or be on a payment plan.

•  The owner must have minimum casualty insurance covering the value of the property, as shown on the Cuyahoga County “My Place” website. 

How does the process work?

• An inspector approved by the Lead Safe Home Fund approves the work to be done. Any additions to the work must be approved. 

• Once a grant is awarded, the amount and approved repairs can be shared with contractors. 

•  Contractors are assigned to projects from a rotating list approved by the Lead Safe Home Fund.

•  Property owners contract directly with contractors on forms that are provided by the Lead Safe Home Fund.

• Repairs will be completed in 45 days, with 60-day extensions offered on a case-by-case basis due to weather or other unforeseen delays.

• Lead Safe Home Fund inspects the work. Once the property is inspected and clear of lead hazards, the money is paid directly to the contractors. 

•  If the project cost is higher than the grant amount, the balance must be deposited with CHN Network, in cash, with a separate loan of a combination of the two options. 

LOANS

Loans are available for for-profit and nonprofit property owners at a fixed rate of 4.99% with a loan term of up to seven years for those who qualify. No lender origination fees are charged. Credit reports and title searches and filings are at cost. Borrowers have to show they can contribute 10% of the loan amount in cash. There is no penalty for paying the loan off early. Private mortgage insurance is not required.

Who is eligible?

For-profit and nonprofit property owners and people who live in the homes they own.

How much can be borrowed?

•  For-profit property owners can borrow a minimum of $1,500 up to $7,500 per unit.

• Nonprofit property owners can borrow a minimum of $1,500 to $10,000 per unit.

What can the loans be used for?

• The cost of lead inspections or clearance tests.

•  Repairs to prevent paint from chipping or peeling or to prevent friction — such as in the opening of doors or windows — from creating dangerous lead dust that can be ingested by children. 

•  Specialized cleaning to remove lead particles. 

Requirements:

• The borrower must be a U.S. citizen, permanent resident alien or nonresident alien with a co-applicant who meets the criteria.

•  Rentals must be registered with the city. 

•  Borrowers must be current on property taxes, fees and charges or be on a payment plan.

• Owners must have minimum casualty insurance covering the value of the property, as shown on the Cuyahoga County “My Place” website. 

• No foreclosure, deed-in-lieu transfers, short sale or sheriff’s sale on properties in the past 36 months.

• No current liens or judgments that could result in a lien. 

• For-profit borrowers can’t have a Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 judgment within the past 48 months (limited case-by-case exceptions may be made for Chapter 13 medical-debt cases).

Financial qualifications

CHN will examine the borrower’s debts owed and cash flow for the project property and/or real estate portfolio.

For-profit borrowers: 

•  Credit score of 640 or higher. Limited exceptions can be made based on other factors demonstrating financial stability/ability to repay the loan.

•  Sources of income verified through two years of tax returns/W-2s and/or pay stubs. (Exceptions may be made for temporary income loss due to COVID-19-related job loss.)

• A cash flow analysis will be conducted.

• Other required financial documentation may include: Child support or alimony award letter. Social security and/or pension income. Rental or boarder income.Real estate owned portfolio chart. Corporate tax returns and/or financial statements. Other bank accounts, investments, assets.

Nonprofit borrowers:

The financial obligations of the nonprofit will be examined including: Liquidity ratios. Current asset/liability ratio.  Cash on hand.  Other information on assets, debts and depreciation.

How does the process work?

•  An inspector approved by the Lead Safe Home Fund approves the work to be done. Any additions to the work must be approved. 

•  Once the loan is awarded, the amount and approved repairs can be shared with contractors. 

•  Contractors are assigned to projects from a rotating list approved by the Lead Safe Home Fund.

• Property owners contract directly with the contractor on forms that are provided by the Lead Safe Home Fund.

• Repairs will be completed in 45 days, with 60-day extensions offered on a case-by-case basis due to weather or other unforeseen delays.

• Lead Safe Home Fund inspects the work. Once the property is approved as clear of lead hazards, the money is paid directly to the contractors. Property owners submit the paperwork to the city to get the Lead Safe certificate.

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