Despite substantial gains made over 45 years of public health intervention, lead exposure remains a significant health risk for children in Massachusetts. Recent evidence suggests that for children there is no safe level of exposure to lead and that exposure to relatively low levels can result in irreversible health effects. Due to recent advances in State policy, there are new tools to combat the dangers posed by lead paint.
The Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) has proposed amendments to regulations on Lead Poisoning Prevention and Control, to lower the threshold of Blood Lead Level (BLL) defining lead poisoning. DPH notes that this will broaden the protection of children by expanding the number of properties where the Commonwealth would require inspection and remediation of violations of the Lead Law, increasing the number of lead-safe units. The change also underscores the need for funding to remove hazardous lead paint. Fortunately, funding is now more readily available to help homeowners.
In October 2016, MassHousing, which administers the Get the Lead Out Program on behalf of the MA Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD), announced enhancements to the Program. These enhancements make it easier for all families throughout the Commonwealth to gain access to the GTLO funds. One important enhancement is that now all owner occupants have access to 0% loans, with repayment deferred until the home is sold, transferred, or refinanced. Mass Housing also made technical changes that make it easier for banks and non-profit agencies, including CDCs, to administer the program.
These changes were the result of advocacy by MACDC, its Members, CHAPA, the Massachusetts Affordable Housing Alliance, and the Massachusetts Public Health Association. We met with representatives of DHCD and MassHousing late in 2015, and again in May of 2016. The agencies were receptive to our recommendations, culminating in the significant changes announced in October of 2016.
These improvements to the GTLO Program have paid off. In fiscal year 2017, 80 loans were made – the most since fiscal year 2008. In fact, these 80 loans were more than the combined loans made during the four-year period from fiscal years 2010 through 2013! MACDC’s advocacy played a significant role in this success.
Exposure to lead paint remains a serious problem. Due to the welcome increase in the number of GTLO loans, the available funding has been reduced to approximately $3.5 million. MACDC hopes to work with DHCD and MassHousing to secure additional funding for this important program in the coming months and years.