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Harrisburg renews effort to fight lead paint hazards in city homes

Harrisburg City Council during Tuesday’s work session

Harrisburg is known for its historic homes, which often have such touches as wide moldings, pocket doors and ceiling medallions.

Sometimes, those houses have something else much less desirable—lead-based paint.

Therefore, the city government wants residents to know that it is seeking applicants for its 2019 lead paint remediation program, an effort aimed at lower- and moderate-income owners and renters.

“It’s not just homeowners,” said Franchon Beeks, program manager and interim director of the city’s Department of Building and Housing Development. “We need more tenants and landlords to be aware of the program.”

The program is open to city residents who meet certain conditions, including income requirements (50 to 80 percent of median family income) and having children in the household younger than 6 years old, since eating chipped, lead-based paint can result in learning disabilities and behavioral problems. In addition, the housing unit must have been built before 1978.

Beeks spoke on Tuesday night during a Harrisburg City Council work session, offering council members a recent history of the program and a look at plans for 2019.

She told council that a federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) “Lead Hazardous Reduction Demonstration” grant for $3.7 million had expired on Dec. 31. However, last week, the city received notice that the Pennsylvania Department of Health had approved a one-year, $986,245 grant, allowing the lead paint control and remediation program to continue through 2019.

Beeks’ presentation wasn’t all good news.

She started by saying that the three-year HUD program got off to a slow start. By June 2017—halfway through the grant period—the city had fallen 20 units short of its benchmark of 70 remediated units. By Sept. 30, 2017, the city had fallen even further behind its goal, completing just 63 of an expected 100 units.

HUD then cited Harrisburg as “noncompliant,” the program manager resigned and Beeks was hired to replace him.

“We had a real problem with this grant,” said Mayor Eric Papenfuse. “We brought on Franchon, and, since then, things have really come around.”

By the end of the grant period in December, the city had completed 181 units, one more than its benchmark of 180. Still, the city left about $1 million of the grant money unspent, but that was largely because the average cost-per-unit, at $9,600, was far below the benchmark cost, Beeks said.

Susan Brown-Wilson, a former city councilwoman who is now client outreach and relocation coordinator for the program, said that they generated interest in the program by speaking before many organizations, attending numerous events and passing out information.

“We blanketed this entire city with flyers,” she said. “We did a lot of footwork to get the applications we received.”

Beeks and Brown-Wilson said that they expect to make the same outreach effort this time around, with a goal of remediating 70 units by year-end. They even plan to include program information in the city’s monthly sanitation bills.

“Having mailers in the trash bill will help with the visibility of this program,” said Councilman Westburn Majors.

To date, most of the participants have been homeowners, but Beeks said that she would like to reach more landlords and renters, as renters make up a large percentage of the city’s lower-income residents. Reaching this population has proven to be difficult, she said, even though the cost of relocation and temporary accommodations–necessary while the work is performed–is also paid through the program.

Looking forward, Beeks said that the city plans this year to apply for the next federal HUD grant, which will run from 2020 to 2023.

“For the next grant, we hope to increase our units,” Beeks said.

Click here for more information on Harrisburg’s Lead Hazard Reduction Program or call 3-1-1 and request an application.

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