The Waco City Council took steps Tuesday that will get a central part of its new lead paint ordinance up and running and could expand the number of households receiving funding for lead paint remediation.

The council hired an environmental firm to inspect properties linked to lead poisoning in children and signed off on applications for $2.3 million in grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to help low-income households get rid of lead.

Responding to a citywide rate of children with elevated levels of lead in their blood that is twice the statewide rate, the city passed an ordinance last year requiring remediation of lead hazards in homes or other facilities used by children who have shown elevated blood lead levels.

On Tuesday, the council hired Austin-based Baer Engineering and Environmental Consulting Inc. to perform lead risk assessments at identified properties, and clearance reports after remediation is done. The firm received a one-year contract for $200,000.

To help pay for the work required by the ordinance, the city received a $1.5 million HUD grant in March, which officials said would cover work at 110 homes. On Tuesday, the council approved an application for another HUD grant worth $2 million, which would be enough to cover work at another 120 homes through 2023, according to city documents.

Director of Housing and Community Development Galen Price said Waco is home to more than 24,000 houses built before 1978, all of which are prime suspects as sources of lead-based paint. Lead paint was banned in 1978.

“We don’t have 100 percent surety that all of those still have lead-based paint, but that’s the number we can go with,” Price said. “Anything built before then most likely has lead-based paint.”

The grant money helps ensure the new ordinance does not place an undue burden on low-income property owners who might otherwise be on the hook to pay for costly remediation to remove lead. Remediation can include stripping lead paint with protections set up for workers and the surrounding area, entombing lead paint in place with specialized surface treatments or other methods.

“We’re giving people a way to address issues if they’re in violation of the ordinance,” Price said.

The city council also approved an application for a $300,000 HUD grant, through its Healthy Homes Program.

The Healthy Homes funding could be used for air conditioning replacements or addressing mold and mildew in homes that is uncovered during work to remediate lead, Price said.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Councilman John Kinnaird said he appreciates the work that has gone into the ordinance.

“It really took all staff and really just a creative, innovative way of thinking of the convergence of health and housing, the way that they impact each other,” Kinnaird said.

The program has been active since mid-June and about 11 applications have been received for the service.

Some applicants come referred from the Waco-McLennan County Health District after children show elevated blood lead levels. In other cases, the health district may get information from the Texas Department of State Health Services about kids who have shown elevated lead levels and contact the families, recommending the program.

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