CEDAR RAPIDS — Melissa Eaton was excited to buy her first home last April. She fell in love with the windows — still original from when it was built in 1924 — which open wide like French doors.
But those same windows that gave her home charm and character also produced anxiety. Lead paint and dust lurked inside them as well as in the front and back doors and in the soil outside.
Eaton doesn’t have any children of her own, but she is from a big family — she has four siblings and 11 nieces and nephews. Nine of those nieces and nephews live in Cedar Rapids and come over frequently.
“When I bought my house, they drew up a schedule for when we’d have slumber parties,” she said. “I wanted to make sure my house was a safe place and they could come over worry free.”
Eaton’s is one of nearly 50 households to take advantage of the city of Cedar Rapids’s Lead Hazard Control Grant — federal funding available to help families renovate and repair homes where children under the age of six live. So far, the city has used about $1.1 million of the $2.5 million grant, and with the grant period quickly coming to a close, city and Linn County Public Health officials are urging residents to see if they qualify. Sixty-five percent of the grant has gone toward repairs and renovations while the remaining money has gone to train contractors more than 60 contractors.
There are financial requirements, families must make no more than 80 percent of the area median income — for a family of four that is $60,950 and for a family of two that is $48,800, according to the city. Those interested in participating in the program should apply as soon as possible, as families must be under contract by July 31.
The city recommends residents call as soon as possible as eligible residents will need to have paperwork completed by the end of May.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development funding helps cover the costs of the lead inspection, home improvements and relocation during the repairs, said Alyssa Williams, housing and healthy homes specialist for the city.
Children exposed to lead can have learning disabilities, developmental delays, reduced IQ and hearing and speech problems as well as other health problems, such as kidney issues.
The number of children in Iowa with elevated blood lead levels is greater than the national average, primarily due to Iowa’s large supply of old homes, said Ann Olson, healthy homes program coordinate for Linn County Public Health.
“Iowa has always been in the top 10 when you look at older housing stock,” she said. “That being because it’s a lot of rural community here, no housing codes — chipping and peeling paint for many generations was just a cosmetic issue, it wasn’t something that was going to impact the health of my child. Iowa was also settled early on due to it being on the Mississippi River.”
Children will ingest lead-based paint chips — which often have deteriorated and sit in window troughs or jams or in the soil outside the home, Olson and Williams said. The lead-based paint tastes sweet to young children, Olson added.
“One thing we tell our families, at snack time or meal time, make sure you’ve got your child in a high chair and that they aren’t walking around the living room with a sandwich, chips or candy that will spill out of their mouth and they’ll just pick it up and put it back in their mouth,” she said.
The groups have worked with schools, health care providers, not-for-profits, the Department of Human Services and other groups to find eligible families as well as using social media, TV ads and direct mail.
“There’s more awareness now than there has been when” it comes to lead poisoning, Olson said. “I can’t say that they always have the right understanding of it. ... That’s something we are always trying to educate our families on.”
For more information, visit crhazardhunters.com or call (319) 286-5872.
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