The City of Austin has received a $2.5 million grant to recondition older homes that contain lead and other health and safety hazards, an expansion of a local program that has already helped hundreds of families.

The grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Lead Hazard Control Program includes a new focus on “healthy homes” allowing the City of Austin to address other hazardous conditions discovered during inspections for lead. 

“Home should be a healthy and safe place for our youngest,” said U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett. “These federal funds will help Austin build on the success of this program and make an even bigger difference for more families.”

This grant will enhance the City’s LeadSmart program, which has assisted more than 350 Austin families since its inception.

“Our efforts already have helped protect many young children in Austin from the dangers of lead,” said Betsy Spencer, Director of the Neighborhood Housing and Community Development Office that administers the program.

“The flexibility to apply this grant to alleviate other health and safety concerns will take another step in improving quality of life for Austin families,” Spencer said.

HUD awarded $98 million in grants nationwide for programs intended to protect children and families from potentially dangerous lead-based paint and other home health and safety hazards.

Approximately 153,000 homes in Austin and Travis County were built before 1978 when lead-based paint was still common. Lead is a known toxin that can impair children’s development and have effects lasting into adulthood.

State health records indicate more than 15,000 Travis County children younger than 6 have elevated blood lead levels.

“If your house has lead, you may not even know. Lead can be in paint, doors, window panes, and outside your house,” Spencer explained. “In just about every case we see, families have no idea their homes could have lead. If you are not sure, call us and we can check your house for free.”

Services for residents

The grant will fund services for 138 housing units, such as:
• Free home health and safety inspection.
• Free lead poisoning tests for children.
• Free lead removal and home repair.
• Pest management and mold remediation.
• Installation of smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors.
• Free hotel stay in the event of major repairs.

A residence could be eligible for up to $30,000 to apply toward repairs/remediation.

Who is eligible?

All services provided by the grant are free to renters, homeowners and multi-family property owners of Austin or Travis County who meet program qualifications:
• A child younger than 6 must live in the home or visit at least six hours a week.
• Federal requirements set a maximum household income of 80 percent of the area’s median family income, which is currently $58,550 for a family of four.

Residents living in homes built before 1978 should call the City’s Neighborhood Housing and Community Development Office at 512-974-3100 or visit www.austintexas.gov/empower.

Potential Hazards of Lead

Even though lead-based paint was banned for residential use in 1978, HUD estimates approximately 24 million homes still have significant lead-based paint hazards. 

Lead-contaminated dust is the primary cause of lead exposure and can lead to a variety of health problems in young children, including reduced IQ, learning disabilities, developmental delays, reduced height and impaired hearing. 

At higher levels, lead can damage a child's kidneys and central nervous system and cause anemia, coma, convulsions and even death.