Feds are directing millions to reduce lead and asthma triggers in low-income MD homes.

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Ruth Ann Norton, President of the Green and Healthy Homes Initiative, speaks about efforts to remove safety hazards like lead and asthma triggers from Baltimore homes. She was joined in front of a recently renovated home by US Reps Chris Van Hollen (D) and Ben Cardin (D), US Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D), US Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Marcia Fudge and Member of the Baltimore City Councilman Ryan Dorsey (D). Photo by Elizabeth Shwe.

Deborah Carter-Gaddis sought help after the decades-old roof of her Baltimore home began leaking last fall, but soon found her home needed many more improvements to protect her health and safety.

The Green and Healthy Homes Initiative, a Baltimore-based nonprofit, inspected their home in the Waltherson neighborhood and found mold in the basement from water leaks caused by a faulty air conditioner, corrosion on the water heater pipe, and a sealed clothes dryer vent, which was what poses a fire hazard.

Gaddis, 73, has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease that makes it difficult to breathe. Her condition worsened while she lived in her home for 16 years, where she takes care of her grandchildren. Her daughter also suffered from respiratory illnesses, Gaddis said.

In three months, the Green and Healthy Homes Initiative removed mold from their basement, properly wired their water heater’s plumbing to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning, added grab bars to their bathtub, and installed a new heating and cooling system. In total, the Green and Healthy Homes Initiative spent around $27,000 on Gaddis’ home — at no cost to her.

“You can’t afford that on a steady income,” said Gaddis, sitting on a large white couch in front of her living room window.

Now she realizes she doesn’t have to hold her thermometer up as high as she used to and can once again enjoy her shot that has either gotten too cold or too hot. “This is fantastic,” she said, fanning her hands over her and drawing attention to the warm air in her house.

These home repairs will allow Gaddis to live longer in her home and “have a future where there is generational wealth transfer and equity in her home,” Ruth Ann Norton, the president of the Green and Healthy Homes Initiative, said at a Press event on Monday in front of her house.

According to the Green and Healthy Homes Initiative, around 4 million children in the country are exposed to lead at home and 40 percent of asthma attacks are caused by triggers at home. According to the organization, African Americans with asthma visit the emergency room 6.5 times more often than whites with asthma in Baltimore.

Exposure to lead can damage the brain and kidneys and cause anemia, which leads to exhaustion due to a lack of healthy red blood cells. But lead is particularly dangerous for children, whose nervous systems and brains are still developing. In the 1980s, more than 13,000 children in Baltimore were poisoned with lead.

This month, the Green and Healthy Homes Initiative received a $2 million grant from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development to help reduce lead hazards, asthma triggers, and other health improvements in 300 other low-income homes in Baltimore achieve.

The federal agency, which provided a total of $105 million to organizations in 29 states, also awarded the Maryland Rural Development Corporation $1.2 million to address health risks in 137 low-income households in Greensboro, a city of 1,900 people Caroline County, curb. Enterprise Community Partners Columbia, a Maryland-based nonprofit housing association, also received $2 million to improve 50 low-income homes.

“Children should never have to live in a place where they can’t breathe,” Marcia Fudge, the US Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, said during her visit to Baltimore on Monday.

“Too many children die and become disabled every year because we didn’t do what we were supposed to do,” she continued. “When we transform houses, we transform people.”

President Biden’s budget spending bill, known as the Build Back Better Act, includes a $5 billion proposal to replace millions of lead pipes across the country. Early municipal water systems commonly used lead in pipes, which can contaminate drinking water until Congress banned those pipes in 1986. According to the Biden administration, up to 10 million homes are still connected to water through lead pipes.

Last year, Congress earmarked $60 million in its annual budget for the Health Homes Production Grant Program, but has earmarked $90 million for this current fiscal year, US Senator Chris Van Hollen (D) said.

He joined Fudge and other members of the congressional delegation and city lawmakers outside of Gaddis’ home to raise awareness of federal programs that are allowing more people to be safe from their own homes.

“She has to make sure that she has more than just a roofed building … that it’s a healthy place to live and where she can invite her children and grandchildren without fear that they will get sick,” said Van Hollen.

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