The federal grant Lancaster is receiving for lead paint abatement is the city's largest grant ever, Mayor Danene Sorace said.
It will help fix a problem that has been lingering for half a century, disproportionately harming the city's poorest and most vulnerable residents.
And its benefits will pay off for generations in the most important way imaginable, she said: Children’s health.
“It’s about giving every child a chance to thrive,” the mayor said, and ensuring they begin life “at the starting line and not behind it.”
Officially announced Thursday, the $9.1 million in funding comes through a competitive grant program administered by the Department of Housing & Urban Development. The city is also receiving $600,000 in Healthy Homes funding to tackle hazards such as radon and mold.
Combined with local private and public matching funds, the total funding comes to $11.1 million.
Only five other cities — all larger than Lancaster — and Rhode Island received comparable grants, Sorace said.
The money, will be administered by the city and allocated over the next 5 years to abate lead hazards, focusing on four U.S. census tracts in Lancaster’s southeast and southwest — “our poorest neighborhoods,” Sorace said.
The mayor spoke passionately at a City Hall press conference Thursday, calling on landlords, tenants and health and building professionals to join forces with City Hall to right “a wrong that we have known about for 50 years.”
The city previously received a $1.3 million HUD grant for lead abatement, enough for 130 homes.
Lead is a neurotoxin, and health experts say exposure to even tiny amounts is dangerous. In children, exposure can affect brain development and is associated with learning disabilities and behavioral disorders.
Lead paint is was not banned until 1978, and remains prevalent in older cities’ housing stock.
Damaris Rau, superintendent of the School District of Lancaster, called the grant “great news.” Dr. Al Peterson, who founded the Lancaster Lead Coalition, called Thursday the single most important day in Lancaster’s fight against lead poisoning.
The city will administer the funds. It will promote the program in conjunction with its community partners, who include SDL, Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health, the local nonprofit Partnership for Public Health and Franklin & Marshall College.
Darren Parmer heads the city’s lead hazard control program. It has two other staff members; he plans to add at least 3 to 4 more, including outreach workers, he said.
The city will hire private contractors to do the remediation itself. Trained and licensed personnel are required, and they’re in high demand, so keeping up staffing in order to meet the city’s goals will be a challenge, said Ted Gallagher, vice president at E.H.C., an abatement, testing and consulting firm.
To help with that effort, the city has been setting up workshops, Parmer said.