A recent article and an editorial in the local daily newspaper mentioned an important local problem, but neglected to put it in context for readers — or, even, explain it.
The writers noted that the federal Department of Housing & Urban Development had placed a $7 million grant to reduce lead hazards in City homes onto its Red List — not a good thing, for sure. But, neither writer took the time to point out why cities like St. Louis, Memphis, Philadelphia, LA, and Detroit are all struggling to comply with the same HUD grant’s regulations — and cities like San Diego and Phoenix are not.
The reason is that older cities with more extensive and dangerous housing have much more difficulty in turning their historic housing stock into lead-safe residences using the HUD expense guidelines than do younger cities with newer and less distressed housing.
Knowing this is important because it points to technical problems with the grant guidelines rather than just problems with how St. Louis and Philadelphia are administering their programs. To produce real and sustained lead safe housing in Rustbelt and old Eastern cities is simply more expensive than in Sunbelt cities, which eats up unit production statistics and causes greater obstacles in terms of match funds, time, overall production, and all the other check-boxes on the grant reports.
Despite this challenge, St. Louis still ranks in the top half of lead-safe unit production among all HUD grantees — and we are making good progress in making City homes safer. In 1999, we remediated 76 homes; last year, it was 554 homes; and this year we expect to do more than 700 homes.
And, much more importantly, fewer and fewer St. Louis children are now testing positive for lead paint each year. In 2000, 31 percent of kids tested had dangerous levels of lead in their blood. Last year, it was 7 percent. Of course, we have plenty of work to do get where we want to be: zero percent of kids tested having elevated lead levels. But, we’ve made important progress that should have been mentioned.
We know that HUD would like all US cities, including St. Louis, to make more homes safer, at less cost each. We’re talking to them about that — and we expect to reach an agreement that reflects their concerns and our realities.
Is that really so hard to write about?