First of 400 houses now lead-free under $5.7 million federal grant program

April 27, 1994|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Timothy B. Wheeler,Sun Staff Writer

Sporting a fresh coat of paint and aluminum replacement windows, a brick rowhouse on Mosher Street yesterday became the first of more than 400 houses in Baltimore to be rendered safe from poisonous lead-based paint under a new federal grant program.

In the process, the fix-up demonstrated how money -- and lots of it -- is the key to Baltimore's decades-old struggle with lead poisoning, which can cause lifelong learning disabilities and health problems in young children.

The house, in the West Baltimore neighborhood of Sandtown-Winchester, is the first in the country to be finished under a federal lead-abatement program begun two years ago by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Baltimore got $5.7 million from HUD, which distributed a total of $46.5 million among 10 cities and states for various methods of lead-paint abatement.

Using the federal money, the city paid 80 percent of the $10,000 cost of removing and covering lead paint in the house in the 1300 block of Mosher St. The landlord, Elliot Dackmann, paid for the other improvements.

City and federal officials, landlords and children's advocates marked the occasion yesterday with speeches, music and tours of the spruced-up dwelling, now vacant.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said the federally supported abatement effort is a "workable solution for the protection of our children" and for preserving affordable rental housing.

About 1,600 cases of lead poisoning are reported in the city every year.

Landlords of inner-city houses, which often rent for less than $300 a month, say they cannot afford the cost of lead abatement, especially if it includes replacing painted wood-frame windows, a major source of lead dust.

If ailing city neighborhoods are to be revived, Mr. Schmoke said, "we've got to do something about lead paint."

In the next 18 months, the city plans to abate lead hazards in a total of 415 homes, said Amy Spanier, lead poisoning prevention coordinator for the city Health Department.

The effort will be concentrated in three neighborhoods targeted by the city for renovation: Sandtown-Winchester, Middle East and Belair-Edison.

Linda Hall, chosen recently as the Mosher Street home's new tenant, celebrated in her own way by reading from the 40th Psalm to the festive crowd: "I waited patiently for the Lord; and he inclined unto me and heard my cry."

"I was praying for it because of my granddaughter," explained Ms. Hall, who works for a community-based health program.

Her granddaughter, Unique, age 4, has lead poisoning, which can cause learning disabilities and impair a child's development. The federal program will make only a small dent in the vast stock of lead-riddled older housing in the city, officials said. There are nearly 70,000 homes in Baltimore built before 1950, when lead paint was widely used.

"If you can have thousands of lead-safe houses for kids, then you can lick the problem," said Nick Farr, executive director of the National Center for Lead-Safe Housing in Columbia.

The city hopes to tap the federal government for more help, said Ms. Spanier.

Another round of grants, totaling $142 million nationwide, is to be made by the end of the year, said Ellis G. Goldman, HUD's lead program director.

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