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Grant to trim lead paint risk in city homes

– Fort Wayne will use nearly $2.5 million in federal grant money to reduce lead paint in rental homes.

Mayor Tom Henry on Monday announced the grant along with federal and local housing officials. The city was one of 43 communities to receive a portion of the $110.8 million in Housing and Urban Development grants awarded this month.

“This program enables us to improve and expand our housing stock, to make sure that our city has safe, affordable and healthy homes for all of our residents,” Henry said.

The money will be used over three years to provide low-interest loans to landlords to eliminate lead paint hazards in their homes. The city has about 61,000 housing units constructed before 1978, which are the homes most at risk for lead paint.

Heather Presley-Cowen, Fort Wayne’s deputy director of housing and neighborhood services, said rental homes are being targeted with this money to provide more safe housing options for city residents.

To qualify for the loans, a home must be located in areas that have less than 20 percent poverty and have access to the public transportation, fresh food and work. Presley-Cowen said those areas are being targeted to ensure poverty isn’t clustered. Landlords who accept the loans will also have to agree to house families using public rental assistance.

The city is using real estate agents to help find owners of vacant rental housing to be eligible for the program. After the work is done, those agents would be able to help place tenants in the homes.

Removing lead paint from a home can cost about $10,000, Presley-Cowen said, and it would be difficult for landlords to be able to raise their rents enough to pay for that expense. She said the loans will be flexible based on the landlord’s ability to pay so there are more houses that are safe for people to rent throughout the city.

Paint dust is the primary cause of lead exposure and can cause problems in children such as reduced intelligence, learning disabilities, developmental delays, reduced height and impaired hearing.