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City, family celebrate first home to go through lead mitigation program
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City, family celebrate first home to go through lead mitigation program

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It started with a watermain break and ended with a refurbished home that's now lead-free.

When the line broke outside the Avenue D home of Justin Rieper and Erica Vanlaningham, they worked with Council Bluffs Community Development for assistance through an emergency program to get water flowing back to the house.

After working with the family, Community Development Specialist Lora Flom mentioned the city's new Lead Hazard Reduction Program.

The program, made possible by a $2.3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, offers qualified homeowners or tenants a chance to make their homes a safer place to live. City officials noted side effects from childhood lead poisoning include damage to the brain and nervous system, slowed growth and development, learning and behavior problems and hearing and speech problems. Children under the age of 6 and pregnant women are most susceptible to lead poisoning.

Rieper and Vanlaningham jumped at the chance -- they found out their 2-year-old son, Glen, had elevated lead levels in his blood during a standard test for Iowa toddlers.

Council Bluffs Community Development worked to take a holistic approach to home improvement -- $300,000 of the federal grant is for the Healthy Homes Program, which focuses on assistance with radon detection, smoke detector checks and installation, plumbing and electrical issues, according to Housing and Economic Development Manager Courtney Harter. Additionally, the Affected Properties Program funds other rehab work, including painting walls beyond those affected by lead, for example.

The end result -- the removal of lead on the exterior, in the basement and parts of the main floor of the Avenue D home, along with fresh coats of paint on the main floor, portions of trim and kitchen walls; new windows, vinyl siding on the house and garage, a new garage door and new storm doors. Along with, electrical improvements, updated exterior security lighting and smoke/carbon monoxide detector installation.

In total, the residence received $53,285 in repairs; $20,000 from the Lead Hazard Reduction Program, $30,335 from Healthy Homes, and $2,950 from the Affected Properties Program.

The work wrapped up in February -- the first completed home in the Lead Hazard Reduction Program. On Tuesday, the city celebrated National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week with a ribbon cutting at the house.

"It's been amazing," Vanlaningham said.

"It's lifechanging, absolutely," Rieper said.

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Vanlaningham said it would've taken years to remove the lead and make the other improvements. And little Glen's lead levels have come down.

"It changed this little boy's life. For the rest of his life, it's completely changed the trajectory of him being capable of learning and functioning," Rieper said as the family gathered outside the house, with Glen and big brother Tony, 8, scurrying about.

The work has benefited the whole family.

"I like I my energy levels have come up a bit. I think even as an adult, I might have been affected by it," Rieper said. "Overall, the family's health feels a lot better inside this home."

"We can definitely tell a difference," Vanlaningham said.

Harter said "it's exciting" to be at this point in the lead mitigation work. The department spent the first year after receiving the grant on getting the program designed and ready for the public. Flom said work has been completed on a total of three homes now, with five out to bid for work and "six more in the pipeline."

"It's starting to take off," Flom said.

The program is designed to remediate lead in 100 homes in the city.

The program is open to residents living in a home constructed prior to 1978 (lead was used in paint until that year), which includes 70% of the city's housing stock, has an income of less than 80% of the median family income in the metro area -- around $48,000 per individual -- with a child under the age of five or pregnant woman living in the house, Council Bluffs Mayor Matt Walsh said in explaining the program during remarks at the brief ceremony.

"It's important to get (lead) cleaned up," Walsh said ahead of his speech.

Tyler Silverthorn with Impact7G conducted lead testing, and KR Home Improvement completed the work, according to the city.

Vanlaningham and Rieper said they were thankful for the chance to participate in the lead mitigation program, commending Community Development employees for keeping communication lines open during the process.

Anyone interested in applying for the program should visit https://www.councilbluffs-ia.gov/2358/Lead-Hazard-Reduction-Program or call City of Council Bluffs Community Development Department at (712) 890-5350.

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