Getting the lead out: grant funds renovations

NAUGATUCK — Edith Gotlibowski had 52 windows in her three-family home replaced, along with some doors and flooring. Overall, the work was valued at $32,600.

Chris Mancini had his single-family, colonial home on Hillcrest Avenue renovated with 17 new windows and vinyl ceilings in the breezeways. The contracts were worth $7,200.

The doors on Nereida Joseph’s two-family Oak Street home were replaced, and its porch and foundation were freshly painted. The work cost $10,431.

These three homeowners have something in common: None of them spent a dime on the repairs.

Homeowner Edith Gotlibowski, left, talks with Deborah Dozier, project construction manager with NauVEL

That’s because each applied and qualified for assistance through Naugatuck Valley Emends Lead Hazards (NauVEL), a program designed to abate lead exposure in homes occupied by children, who are most at-risk for lead poisoning. NauVEL is administered through the Naugatuck Valley Health District and funded by a $3 million, three-year grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“We figured we’d call and see what was going on, since our house kind of fit the description,” Mancini said. “We were just like, ‘Well, this house is pretty old, and there’s definitely quite a bit of lead paint all over the place … and we have a three-year-old, so we thought it would make sense.”

Mancini, who called his 1929 home “a relic,” said he had no real intentions of renovating it until he saw an advertisement for NauVEL.

“That kind of awareness isn’t like it was back when they were cleaning out every single school and everything was high alert on everything that was lead,” he noted. “When I was growing up, in the ‘70s and ‘80s, that was a huge, huge topic, but a lot of the lead in houses, for the most part, was gone after that.”

But the older a home is, the more likely it contains lead hazards: 24 percent of homes built between 1960 and 1978 contain lead; 69 percent of dwellings built between 1940 and 1960 do. About nine out of ten pre-1940 abodes contain lead. And according to Census data, 48 percent of Valley housing stock is pre-1960 construction or older.

“I didn’t even know how much lead was in the house or things like that,” Joseph said of her two-family home, “so it was something I wanted to look into. … It’s really good because I do have kids, and the tenant has a little baby, and I don’t have to worry about any lead paint or something like that.”

The program pays up to $10,500 per housing unit for renovations that address lead hazards. Eligible homes are those built prior to 1978 which contain lead and are home to a child under six. Owners must also meet HUD regional income requirements and be up-to-date on their mortgages, property taxes and insurance payments. Eligible homes are located in one of six Naugatuck Valley Health District municipalities: Ansonia, Beacon Falls, Derby, Naugatuck, Seymour or Shelton.

Mancini was happy to get a “free house-cleaning” out of the deal, but said he had no ideas about taking advantage of government money—in fact, he said, his family stayed with his in-laws when they needed to vacate the home for a week, when the program would have granted them cash to pay for a hotel and even food during that time.

“We turned that all down. They were pretty surprised we did,” he said. “You give and take in life. You’ve got to kind of know how much you can take.”

Another added bonus for the Mancini family will be, he expects, lower heating costs in the winter, on account of the new thermal-pane, insulated windows.

“When they came along with this program and said, you know, ‘The bulk of your lead is all over your windows. Would you like to get your windows replaced?’ You ask a family that today in Naugatuck—or anywhere—and they’re going to do a cartwheel,” he said.

The health district hopes Valley homeowners will continue to take interest in the NauVEL program, as it needs to work on a total of 154 housing units to meet the requirements of the HUD grant.

HUD has funded over 300 lead paint hazard-control grants in the last decade, and claims to have helped create 100,000 “lead-safe homes.”

“To grow up healthy, children need to live in healthy homes, and getting homes tested for lead is an essential part of that process,” said Ron Sims, HUD Deputy Secretary. “There are about 38 million U.S. homes that still contain lead-based paint, so it’s important to know the age of your home and get it tested if it was built before 1978.”

More information on NauVEL is available at (203) 828-9925.