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City seeks $5 million in COVID relief for lead paint removal


The city of Rochester is looking to use $5 million in state COVID relief funds to remove lead paint in low-income housing.

Legislation introduced by former Mayor James Smith calls for the city to apply for a Community Block Development grant funded through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Security (CARES) Act of 2020. The money would be earmarked to support lead removal efforts for small residential buildings.

Buildings would qualify if they were built before 1978, had one to four units, and had tenants making less than 50 percent of the area median income, or about $40,000 for a family of four.

Landlords receiving a grant to rehab their property would be required to continue renting to that demographic for at least five years. The money would only be available to tenant-occupied properties.

The legislation is scheduled to go to vote at City Council’s monthly meeting on Jan. 18.

Lead paint was ubiquitous in homes throughout the first half of the 20th century, and was officially banned by the federal government in 1978.

“Every house built before 1978 is assumed to have lead paint, and most of the houses in the city were built before 1978,” said Dana Miller, Commissioner of the city’s Department of Neighborhood and Business Development. “So we’re talking about tens of thousands of homes.”

In 2006, Rochester passed a pioneering law that added an examination for loose lead paint as part of the certificate of occupancy inspection for apartments and rental home built before 1978. In 2002, 9 percent of the 14,819 children tested in Monroe County were found to have elevated levels of lead in their blood. In recent years, roughly 14,000 children have had their blood checked annually, and about 1 percent were found to have elevated lead levels, according to county Department of Public Health data.

Miller said the five-year rule would be enforced by regular check-ins with the landlord to ensure they are meeting grant obligations. If the landlord is found to not be following the guideline, or fails to respond, they could be potentially asked to repay grant funds.

Miller called the new grant money “a start,” and said it could be used to remediate about 100 homes in the city.

The Lead Hazard Control grant currently awarded to building owners has a $20,000 limit, but the new funding would allow landlords to apply for unspecified larger amounts. The legislation aims to allow recipients to use the money to not only remove old lead paint, but to fix other health hazards or structural issues.

“One of the things not many people think about are windows,” Miller said. “Many of the windows from that time used lead paint, and as they’re opened and closed over the years, it scrapes off…replacing windows can be a major part of fixing these homes.”

At a Council agenda review Thursday evening, councilmembers asked questions pertaining to the five-year rule and how the remediations would be inspected. Councilmembers Mitch Gruber and Mary Lupien both asked if the five year timeline could be extended for even longer.

“I think we can find out if someone sells a property pretty quickly, but I don’t know what we have in place to figure out what people are charging for rent, and how we can ensure everyone is at 50 percent or under AMI,” said Councilmember Mitch Gruber.

Gino Fanelli is a CITY staff writer. He can be reached at (585) 775-9692 or