Margaret Molina was skeptical about calling the Lead Safe Tahoe program and asking for an inspection of her mother’s cabin on Sierra Boulevard for hazardous lead paint.
“I kept hearing all these negative people talking about all the catches,” Molina said.
She decided to check it out anyway. An inspection crew found potentially hazardous lead paint in the cabin. The city then offered to get it taken care of for free. The work was done over two weeks in November.
“They stripped all the old paint off the house, put a sealer on it and painted it, and took off the old front porch,” Molina said.
“I hear people saying that there’s some catch,” Molina said about the program. “I just tell them no, there are no catches. If they find it, this is something they will do if you qualify.”
The cabin is one of 486 homes and apartments the program has tested for lead paint in South Lake Tahoe. Of those, 178 have tested positive for lead paint and 172 have had the paint removed or mitigated by qualified local contractors who have partnered with the city on the program. Six more are under construction.
Homes must be permanent residences and built before 1978, the last year lead-based paint and other materials were used. Homes also must have children ages 6 or under in them for some portion of the year.
Lead testing and removal are free for income-eligible people. Income limits range from $38,550 for a single-person household to $55,050 for a family of four. Owners of larger multi-family properties with 26 or more units must pay for a portion of the cost of work that’s done.
“We’ve worked on single-family homes, duplexes, larger multi-family properties,” said Anita Good, the outreach coordinator for Lead Safe Tahoe.
“It might be as little as some lead paint on window trim inside, or siding they can encase on the outside of the house. If it’s in the wood of doors or windows, we can replace those with new double panes. Sometimes it’s found in the carpet or the soil outside.”
Lead paint can chip or turn into dust and become a hazard as it deteriorates. Exposure to the neurotoxic metal is linked to a number of health and developmental problems.
Wherever hazardous lead paint is found in or around a home, contractors will come and remove it. Properties that go through the program get an official certificate that they are lead-free.
About $3.5 million in grant funding from U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has made the program possible in South Lake Tahoe. A first grant was awarded in 2009 and a second grant was awarded in 2011.
If lead paint is found in a home, grant money can also be used to address other health and safety issues such as radon or mold and to fix substandard housing issues such as broken windows, Good said.
“If we can give kids a healthy place to live and physically improve the community, all the better,” she said.
The program has also trained about 200 local employees in safe work practices for homes with lead paint.
There’s no word yet on whether more federal funding will be available for the program, so South Lake Tahoe has until November to spend its remaining grant money. Good said the city is trying to do just that.
“We’d love to get homes tested and identified and in the queue so we are ready to go in the spring,” she said.
The program sometimes struggles with skepticism and concerns that there’s some catch or it isn’t really free for the eligible people who participate.
“We have to do a lot of convincing,” Good said.
Almost 500 homes in the city have been tested for lead paint, but many more potentially eligible properties have not. More than 9,400 homes and multifamily properties in South Lake Tahoe were built before the 1978 cutoff date, Good said.
“On one hand, we feel good we tested a lot of homes. On the other hand, there are still a lot of them out there we’d love to try to address,” she said.
Molina said she encourages anyone thinking about the program to just do it.
“There’s no paying it back, there’s no catches. It was like, wow, they’re just going to put this much money into the place. We could have never afforded to do any of this on our own,” she said, adding that it made her mother’s cabin a safer place for her children to visit.
“I would recommend it to anybody. It doesn’t hurt to have a place checked out to see if there’s lead and go from there.”
John Simmonds echoed that belief. One of his two cabins on Aspen Avenue went through the program in November. The cabin had its exterior repainted and all of its windows replaced.
“In my opinion, you’re crazy not to do it just to get the piece of mind to find out if you have lead in your paint,” Simmonds said.
“If they test and don’t find lead, there’s no cost, no nothing, and you have that piece of mind,” he said. “If they do find lead, they’re offering to repair the situation for free.”