The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is giving Peoria County $5.6 million to remove dangerous lead paint from homes.
Lead poisoning can create severe disabilities for young children. The Illinois Department of Public Health reported more than 16 percent of Peoria County kids ages 2 or younger tested in 2017 had elevated lead levels in their blood. Those are the most recent statistics available.
3.3 percent of the children had more than twice the U.S. EPA's action level present in their bloodstream. Much of that toxic lead is inhaled by kids through deteriorating lead-based paint.
First District Councilwoman Denise Moore called the federal grant “a game changer.”
“The South Side and some of the parts of the North Valley have homes that were some of the first homes to be built in Peoria. A lot of the homes that are there with children and families growing there have issues of lead paint that need to be addressed," she said.
The program will remediate 380 homes with children, primarily in Peoria’s South Side, East Bluff, West Bluff and North Valley neighborhoods, over the next two years. Another 100 homes are on the waiting list. Homes built before 1978 are eligible.
Peoria City/County Health Department Administrator Monica Hendrickson said homes in these neighborhoods have children with "historically high lead levels," potentially up to 40 to 60 percent.
"We're looking at children that are already in disadvantaged neighborhoods and environments, and on top of that, having lead poisoning," Hendrickson said.
Much of the remediation work will be done by local, minority-owned contracting firms.
Rev. Samuel Duren is the President of the Peoria County Board of Health. He said equity comes up often in the board's discussions.
"We want to make sure everybody has an opportunity to have a healthy life, regardless of where you live, your income, your status. That we want to make everything accessible. And this is one step to help us get closer to get there, by having a healthy Peoria," Duren said.
He said the grant will not only have a positive impact on the kids who live in the homes, but their friends who come to visit.
U.S. Rep. Darin LaHood (R-Peoria) said the money will go to good work over the next two years.
“This is a win for children, it’s a win for families, and it’s a win for our community," LaHood said.
The $5.6 million grant is the maximum amount of money Peoria County could receive under HUD's Lead Based Paint Hazard Reduction Program and Healthy Homes Production Grant Program to clean up lead paint in low-income housing.
The Peoria region, which includes much of Central and Western Illinois, had more children test positive for elevated lead levels among young children in 2017 than any other region outside the Chicago area.
Winnebago and McHenry counties in northern Illinois are also receiving grant money for lead paint removal.