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Cleveland, local foundations commit $8.1 million to Lead Safe Home Fund and Resource Center

Posted November 25, 2019
3:01 pm

Written by Rachel Dissell in The Plain Dealer on 11/25/2019

CLEVELAND, Ohio – Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson is proposing a $5 million investment toward a newly-created fund that will support efforts to make homes lead safe for the city’s children.

Cleveland’s commitment, along with $2 million dedicated by the state and $3.1 million pledged Monday by three local foundations would bring the total investment in the Lead Safe Home Fund to $10.1 million.

The foundation commitments are:

· $2 million from the George Gund Foundation over 5 years.

· $1 million from the Mt. Sinai Healthcare Foundation over 2 years.

· $120,000 from the Saint Luke’s Foundation over 1 year.

The Lead Safe Cleveland Coalition, which is spearheading the launch of the fund and a Lead Safe Resource Center, estimates that it will cost $99.4 million over 5 years to support a massive effort to inspect and remediate older rental homes in the city at risk for poisoning children.

The city’s initial $5 million investment would come from unspent funds from this year’s budget, re-allocated as part of an end-of-the-year “transfer ordinance” the administration will introduce at tonight’s council meeting.

“We are committed to seeing this work through,” Jackson said, through a city spokeswoman.

Cleveland’s contribution to the fund is separate from resources the city will have to dedicate to implement a new lead safe certificate program that was the centerpiece of a set of lead-poisoning prevention initiatives supported by Jackson and passed by City Council in in July.

Councilman Blaine Griffin, who pushed for passage for the historic laws, called the city and philanthropic commitments “significant" and said they demonstrate confidence in the collaborative efforts of the city and the coalition, which announced its formation in January and has since grown to include more 380 members.

United Way of Greater Cleveland CEO Auggie Napoli, a coalition member who is working to entice other fund investors, called the financial commitments a “down payment” on the promise to make Cleveland lead-safe.

The hope is that others, particularly corporate partners, will follow.

In 2019, 973 children in Cleveland who have been screened had levels of lead in their blood high enough to trigger public health action, according to the Ohio Department of Health. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines say no level of lead is safe for a child.

Starting in 2021, the city will require most rentals built before 1978 to be certified as lead-safe, with all landlords mandated to have inspections and lead-safe certificates issued by 2023. Those who don’t comply could be ticketed or face criminal violations in housing court.

The fund, which coalition members said is a first-of-its-kind in the country, will be used to support landlords and tenants with information, education and resource, as well as help build and train a workforce to inspect – and remediate when needed – the city’s estimated 80,000 to 100,000 rental units.

Mt. Sinai Health Care Foundation President Mitchell Balk, whose organization helped galvanize the philanthropic community around lead prevention efforts, said the investments were proof positive of the strong partnerships that have germinated.

“We have to remember that this hasn’t been done before in the country,” he said.

Balk said philanthropy is essential to funding the one-stop Lead Safe Resource Center. Next steps include working with banks and community lending institutions to make sure capital for lead-safe renovations is available, especially for lower-income property owners. The fund would distribute grants and administer a range of low- and no-interest loans to property owners to help them make homes safe from the brain-damaging toxin.

As much as $40 million in grants could be distributed to property owners who conduct lead-safe work on their homes, and $5 million in incentives could be offered to landlords who get their homes inspected and certified as lead-safe in the next few years. The grants and loans are seen as essential to help low-income landlords and property owners make their homes safe for children, coalition members said.

The remainder of the funding would cover workforce training, operations and administration.

The coalition is reviewing proposals from organizations interested in running the resource center and administering the fund and expects to announce its selection in early 2020.

George Gund Foundation's $2 million dollar commitment is an “investment in our children, in our housing stock and ultimately the future of our community," David Abbott, the executive director, said in a statement.

The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland today also honored Jackson and City Council with its Louis Stokes Paragon Award Monday for its “bold steps” in 2019 to introduce and pass legislation to require rental homes in Cleveland to be lead safe and to support “right to counsel” efforts in housing court.

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