Pausing for a photo following a news conference Friday Oct. 18 where Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, announced grant awards for lead paint hazard abatement and other safe housing initiatives, were Biddeford Mayor Alan Casavant, U.S. Housing and Urban Development Regional Director David Tille, Collins, and Lewiston Mayor Kristen Cloutier. Tammy Wells file photo

BIDDEFORD — In October U.S. Senator Susan Collins came to Biddeford to announce that the city was being awarded about $3 million in federal funds to help remediate about 135 housing units with lead paint and improve the safety and health of some of the city’s housing stock.

On Tuesday, Dec. 17, the Biddeford City Council approved acceptance of $3,246,744 from the HUD Lead Hazard Reduction and Healthy Homes Grant, the largest grant the city has ever received, according to Mayor Alan Casavant.

When announcing the award on Oct. 18 at Biddeford City Hall, Collins said, “the goal is to eliminate and reduce lead hazards and make sure more Maine families are living in safe, healthy homes.” In making the announcement the Maine Republican was accompanied by U.S. Housing and Urban Development New England Regional Administrator David Tille.

“This is a really big deal and will make a big difference with the rental units in our community and it really came from the direction of the council,” City Manager James Bennett said Dec. 17.

The highest priority will be to remediate units that the Maine CDC has identified as having had children who have lead poisoning, said Biddeford’s Economic Development Director Mathew Eddy. He said the units have been identified, not the children or their families.

The grants will “generally focus on family apartments,” he said.

About $10,000 will be used for remediation per unit, he said, and an additional $2,000 can be used on the same or other units to bring them up to safety codes.

Maine’s housing stock is some of the oldest in the nation, Collins said in October, with 57 percent of the housing stock built before 1978, the year lead-based paint was banned, she said.

“Maine (homes) have the highest level of lead paint in the United States, Collins said.

Biddeford Mayor Alan Casavant said that the age and condition of the city’s housing stock has been a concern for years. After a fatal fire a few years ago, the city began inspections, he said, and noted that out of 690 housing checks, only about 35 met the basic standards of life, health and safety.

The city will work with a host of partners to make Biddeford homes safer, Casavant said. The $298,600 Healthy Homes grant will leverage about $200,000 in weatherization, home repair and aging in place funding by York County Community Action Corporation and Biddeford Housing Authority, he said.

Among a lengthy list of partners is the Coastal Healthy Communities Coalition at the University of New England, which will provide education and outreach and Community Concepts, whom Casavant described as the program delivery partner.

The city and HUD are still negotiating the details of the program, which should be up and running sometime in January, Eddy said earlier this month. Apartment owners will then be able to apply for funding.

Additional funds will be made available for another housing program that will be combined with the lead grant program to further improve the city’s housing stock, he said. Eddy said he will discuss details of the other program in the new year.

In addition, he said,  the city “fully intends to go for another (lead) grant within that three-year period” that the current grant covers.”

Besides Biddeford, federal awards were made to Portland, Lewiston and the Maine State Housing Authority, providing $15 million in total to aid about 750 of Maine’s most vulnerable families, the senator said.

In September, the U.S. Appropriations Committee advanced Collins’ fiscal year 2020 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development funding bill, which includes $290 million to combat lead hazards nationwide, $11 million more than last year’s level. In a December 16 press release by Collins office, the bill awaits a vote by the full U.S. House of Representatives. The release states that under Collins’ leadership — she is chairman of the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Subcommittee – funding for the lead hazard program has nearly tripled since 2015.

Staff writer Tammy Wells contributed to this story.

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