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Medford initiates effort to remove lead from homes

Medford City Council and Habitat for Humanity will work together to reduce lead contamination

Children exposed to lead-contaminated homes will get relief from a $2.2 million Medford effort to remove the poison.

Medford City Council Thursday night approved the program, which will be managed by Habitat for Humanity.

“We’re going to be able to help a lot of people,” said Denise James, executive director of the nonprofit organization.

Lead contamination, particularly around painted windows and siding, can cause a variety of health problems in young children, including damage to the brain, slowed growth and development, learning and behavior problems, as well as hearing and speech problems, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

While children can get lead contamination directly from paint chips, it’s more common for the lead chips to contaminate the surrounding soil or the floor where children play.

The program has a goal of removing lead from 78 houses in Medford.

The bulk of the funding for the program is coming from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

In order to provide required matching dollars, the council contributed $200,000 toward the program, with an additional $40,000 from Jackson Care Connect.

The agreement with HUD expires April 30, 2025.

The clean-up effort is part of the city’s 2020-2024 plan to expand and improve affordable housing.

Habitat is still gearing up for the three-year program and recently hired Joe Berggren to be project manager.

To qualify for the program, a house has to have been built prior to 1978 and must have children younger than 6 who live there.

Grandparents or others who take care of children also can qualify for the program.

Priority will be given to housing where children under 6 have elevated lead levels in their blood.

Any homeowner or landlord interested in participating in the program can call Berggren at 541-779-1983, extension 102, or joeberggren@roguevalleyhabitat.org.

To qualify, a homeowner has to commit to living in the house for at least three years after the repairs have been made to avoid repaying the costs, James said.

The household has to be considered low-income under standards set by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

James said Berggren, who starts next week, will make an analysis of properties to determine the extent of the lead contamination and what steps need to be taken to clean up the property.

In addition to lead removal, the program allows for an additional $5,000 for a particular house to deal with other health and safety issues, including asbestos removal or dealing with heating and air conditioning systems.

James said Habitat will work with contractors who are licensed in lead removal.

Habitat for Humanity has helped restore other houses in the valley, and has been building homes for residents affected by the Almeda fire.

The organization anticipates many residents will inquire to become part of the program, but if it doesn’t receive enough applicants, it will reach out to owners of older homes, which are common throughout the city.

“If we don’t hear from anyone, we will dig deeper into the data,” James said.

Reach freelance writer Damian Mann at dmannnews@gmail.com.