Worcester has received a $4.1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for a lead hazard reduction program for qualified property owners. The city plans to use the grant to rehabilitate 165 units that house low-income families with children.

The city has been involved with the Lead Paint Abatement and Healthy Home grant program since 2005 and has received numerous grants over the years, but this is the city’s largest single lead reduction grant to date.

“Like many cities in the state, we are very old,” Housing Development and Healthy Homes Director James Brooks said. “Most of our housing stock was built before 1940, so there is a high likelihood that there’s lead in the buildings.”

State lead poisoning prevention and control regulations require all children to be tested for lead poisoning between 9 and 12 months, and again at ages 2 and 3. Worcester has a 61% screening rate, somewhat behind the state average of 70%, and is considered a high-risk community.

There are two pathways for a housing unit to get into the system for lead remediation through the Worcester Lead Abatement Program. The first occurs when a tested child has a high level of lead in their bloodstream. The city has a community health worker who becomes the first point of contact for the family during medical care and the process of addressing lead contamination. The city gets about half of the cases this way, Brooks said, with the other half coming from the city’s outreach to landlords and homeowners.

For the program, HUD requires a housing unit to meet a low-income standard and house a child under the age of 6. Once the unit is found eligible, a lead inspector visits the property and a state and federal report are completed. Lead specialists will do a scope of work, which the city reviews with the homeowner. The city also maintains a list of pre-approved contractors for homeowners to access. After the project goes to bid and a contract is awarded, the city meets with the homeowner and the contractor and will have rehabilitation specialists on site while the work is being done. Afterwards, the lead inspector comes back in to confirm the work is complete.

The city helps residents access federal funds for temporary relocation required while the work is being done.

The city has also dedicated $1 million of its American Rescue Plan Act funds to help rehabilitate units in the same building as a qualified unit that may not qualify individually, so a full building may be rehabilitated from two separate funding sources.

The city also has an ARPA rehabilitation funding program for other areas of concern in a unit to try to address them all at once, like heating systems and mold, which can have an impact on asthma. (Worcester has a high rate of childhood asthma.)

While a lot of larger cities receive grant funding through HUD, Brooks said the state is making an effort to help smaller mill towns get access to funding by applying for a capacity grant of $2.5 million to put together a statewide program.

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