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WUWM's Susan Bence reports on Wisconsin environmental issues.

Milwaukee County Initiative Would Create Loan Program To Remove Lead Hazards From Foreclosed Homes

Susan Bence
Concerns about public health hazards posed by chipping lead paint and old lead pipes in Milwaukee County-owned foreclosed homes led to the resolution proposed by Supervisor John Weishan.

There's been a lot of talk about Milwaukee efforts to shore up its childhood lead program and remove old lead pipes that feeds drinking water to tens of thousands of homes in the city.

Now, Milwaukee County hopes a proposed initiative will help risks found in foreclosed homes. 

The idea is to create a small, revolving loan fund to help county residents remove lead hazards — both paint and old lead service lines – when they buy a foreclosed home from the county.

READ: Milwaukee Health Department Reassures Aldermen About Childhood Lead Program Once Again

Thursday, the Transportation, Public Works and Transit Committee approved a resolution to help residents remove lead pipes and paint from foreclosed properties.

Supervisor John Weishan spearheaded the measure. He says he’s been trying to propel county government to act on the risks posed by lead for two-and-a-half years. In 2017, Weishan promoted a $1 million financial assistance program to remove lead hazards.

The current plan is more modest in scope. It targets foreclosed homes. When the homes move from county to private ownership, Weishan wants lead found in both paint and old pipes feeding water into the home to be remediated. Initial funding is $550,000, he says.

“Milwaukee County, we deal with thousands of different foreclosed properties mainly in the 18 suburban communities. When one of those properties comes into our possession, we should make sure it’s lead free," Weishan says.

Pointing to estimates that he's seen, Weishan says cost for lateral replacement ranges from $1,700 to $9,000. 

"Some people may be wanting to fix that lead lateral, but they can only afford $2,000 but it’s a $3,000 job. So, we would then be interested in giving them a low interest loan for that additional $1,000,” Weishan explains.

"It's a loan program. It's open to everyone throughout Milwaukee County. Unfortunately because of the lack of resources, it's first come, first serve." - John Weishan

He says loans would be awarded on a first come, first serve basis, and would be coordinated by the Milwaukee County Housing Division.

“At this point, I would like to keep things simple. It’s a loan program. It’s open to everyone throughout Milwaukee County. Unfortunately because of the lack of resources, it’s first come, first serve,” says Weishan.

Housing Division Administrator Jim Mathy told the committee his staff is equipped to take on the project, but would need at least an additional part-time staff person to coordinate it.

“We would run it as we do our home repair program. We have two certified lead inspectors who follow HUD and lead-safe guidelines,” Mathy says.

Supervisor Marina Dimitrijevic likes the idea, but she thinks the committee is moving too quickly.

“I would like to hear from the treasurer's office specifically since they also receive foreclosures. Perhaps the register of deeds. There are a lot of groups that would be affected here,” Dimitrijevic says.

Weishan urged the committee to move forward.

“There is no safe level of lead. I would not want someone to buy a home or rent a home from somebody who bought a foreclosed house and then be responsible that their children, or they had a miscarriage because of lead poisoning,” Weishan says.

READ: What Milwaukee's Lead Problem Means For Children

In the end, Dimitrijevic’s reservations swayed. But only after learning that Milwaukee County hasn't been keeping track of how many foreclosed homes it has sold that have contained lead and haven't been remediated.

You could almost feel Dimitrivijec’s concern mount about unattended lead hazards moving silently from county to new owners. In the end she, and the rest of the county committee voted in favor of the resolution.

It's not yet clear whether the full county board will OK the resolution and if so, how it would unfold. Gov. Tony Evers hopes an executive order, which calls to coordinate state efforts and creates a lead pollution czar within the State Department of Health Services, will help every municipality tackle the lead challenge.

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Susan Bence entered broadcasting in an untraditional way. After years of avid public radio listening, Susan returned to school and earned a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She interned for WUWM News and worked with the Lake Effect team, before being hired full-time as a WUWM News reporter / producer.
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