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Reading program to reduce home hazards stalls due to lack of staff

Reading has nearly $1.3 million available in federal funds that can be used to abate environmental hazards in city homes, but the program approved last year has stalled due to a lack of staff, said Jamal Abodalo, director of the city’s Community Development Department.

“At this point in time, we received the award grant in August of last year for 42 months,” he said. “But this program has not yet started.”

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development grant of $1,296,988 requires a match of $170,452 and must be spent within 42 months of the approval date, he noted.

Abodalo reviewed the program at a recent City Council committee of the whole meeting as part of a report on federally funded programs administered by his department.

Known in Reading as Healthy Homes Production, HUD’s Healthy Homes Program aims to address multiple childhood diseases and injuries in the home caused by housing-related hazards, including mold, lead, allergens, carbon monoxide, pesticides and radon.

Eligible activities, according to HUD, may include developing low-cost methods for hazard assessment and intervention, evaluating the effectiveness of interventions, building local capacity to educate residents and mitigate hazards, and developing and delivering public-education programs.

The delayed start is a concern, said Councilman Jaime Baez Jr., who questioned Abodalo about it.

“We have no manpower to get this,” Abodalo said. “But I’m hoping that we will be able to work through it, through the steps of getting this done.”

To get the program up and running, Abodalo said, three staff members will be needed: a program coordinator, a home assessment officer and an intake clerk.

Ideal candidates would be fluent in English and Spanish, he noted.

The positions would be funded under the grant.

Abodalo said labor contracts require that the job openings first be posted and made available to city staff. If no qualified staff bid on the positions, the city can advertise for job candidates.

“If we cannot hire more people,” he said, “we have to resort to other alternatives and some of these alternatives will probably be seeking outside contractors.”

A decision should be made by July to give the city as much time as possible to use the grant money, he said.

The Healthy Homes program differs from HUD’s Lead Based Paint Reduction program, Abodalo said in answer to another question from Baez.

The lead program is initiated when a child in the household age 6 or younger is diagnosed with high lead blood levels, Abodalo explained.

The Healthy Homes program builds on that, he said, and can help with other disease-causing hazards in the home.

There are income guidelines and other requirements for both programs, Abodalo said.

The city received $3.3 million from HUD for lead paint reduction in October 2022, he said, noting that program also has a 42-month term.

To date, more than $2.8 million of those funds remain and must be spent by the end of April 2025.

“All of these grants that you’re seeing here are actually grants based on our ability to perform and provide,” Abodalo said. “So, for instance, if we fail to provide the health home production program, we might not be able to get another grant for the lead-based paint program because they are all tied in to HUD programs.”

Because of that, he said, it is critical that the city hire the needed staff or use an outside contractor to run the program.

Source: Berkshire mont

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