Bucks County gets $1.5 million from HUD for lead paint remediation

(Dana Bate/WHYY)

(Dana Bate/WHYY)

Bucks County will get $1.5 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to rid homes of lead hazards, targeting low-income residents that have a high probability of lead paint contamination.

The federal government banned lead paint in 1978, but homes built before that are likely to have it. Some 110,000 homes in Bucks County were built before the ban, and 30,000 were built before 1940, further increasing the risk. The bulk of those homes are located in the lower part of the county.

Lead exposure in children can lead to a range of health issues, from developmental delays and kidney disease to hearing loss, and in adults can lead to high blood pressure, neurological disorders, infertility, and other health issues.

“I’m thrilled that we have the opportunity to do this,” said Rob Loughery, chairman of the Bucks County Board of Commissioners. “We want people to live in Bucks County, we want people to work in Bucks County, and being able to afford a home is a challenge sometimes. So this gives us an opportunity to help a lot of families and provide safe housing for them.”

The county is still working with HUD to iron out how the money will be distributed, but Margaret McKevitt, director of the county’s Department of Community and Economic Development, estimates about 10% will be spent on administration, including advertising the program, with the bulk going toward lead remediation.

The Department of Community and Economic Development will partner with the county’s health department, which will test homes for lead, and will work with nonprofits to identify eligible families. The official eligibility requirements have not been announced, but McKevitt said the grant would target low-income homeowners living in properties built before 1978.

Both rental units and owner-occupied units will qualify for funding, and contractors will receive money through the county to do the work on homes that are selected.

The county already has a program that provides home improvement grants through its Owner-Occupied Rehabilitation Program, which the county established in 1976. But the maximum amount of assistance through that program is $15,000, and lead abatement can cost between $8,000 and $15,000, depending on the extent of remediation that’s needed.

“You use up a lot of the money with abating the lead-based paint that’s there, which keeps us from getting to some of the other needs, whether it’s roof or heating or plumbing,” Loughery said. “Bringing this [HUD grant] in, if we match it up with other programs that we do, will allow us to go a lot further.”

Bethann McNamara looks forward to that. McNamara runs Co-Mans, a nonprofit that provides housing for chronically mentally ill residents in Bucks County. The organization recently bought a 1930s house in Morrisville for transitional housing for its clients, knowing some renovations would be necessary for a house that’s nearly 90 years old.

“No surprise, we found some lead in the windows,” she said. 

But after having the windows removed and the lead abated, contractors were still getting high lead readings. They realized lead was blowing off the siding into the house, which meant they needed to remove and replace the siding as well.

“It’s been one thing after another, many of those related to lead issues, which can be costly,” she said. “So any money that is brought into Bucks County to remediate this issue is wonderful.”

The money is part of HUD’s Lead-Based Paint Hazard Reduction Program. Last month, the department announced $319 million in funding through that program to identify and clean up lead in low-income housing.

Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick, whose district includes Bucks County, said the grant money will help the county provide safe and affordable housing to residents.

“We just want to try to get into as many of these homes as we can, mitigate the risk, and to the extent that people are being exposed to lead, obviously mitigate it, but also let them know they have been exposed to this so that they can monitor their health,” he said.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.