Those homes also have lead service lines snaking beneath them. At a national water conference earlier this year in Flint, Detroit Water and Sewerage Department Director Gary Brown, calling it a “conservative” estimate, said Detroit has at least 125,000 lead service lines — probably more than the rest of the state combined. The city is exploring options but does not currently have a long-term replacement program in place.
Lead service lines beneath the city carry water into homes and businesses and are a potentially dangerous threat, but it could take decades to remove them at a cost of up to $500 million, according to some estimates.
Khaldun said the city already is waging a fierce battle against lead poisoning, with multiple programs aimed at cleaning up houses and educating the public. The lead poisoning rate dropped 50 percent in Detroit between 2009 and 2015. Khaldun noted that the Detroit City Council unanimously approved an ordinance on Oct. 31 that requires inspections of all rental properties.
“(Because of the ordinance) we will actually know ... what those levels of lead are in those homes, and we are working with those landlords and those owners so that they are doing something about the lead in those homes,” Khaldun said.
Lyke Thompson, director of the Center for Urban Studies at Wayne State and project coordinator of the Detroit/Wayne County Green and Healthy Homes Initiative, said the ordinance to force landlords to get their properties inspected — which includes lead paint inspection — will help prevent poisonings.
Under current law, housing units are supposed to be registered and have passed city inspections by obtaining a certificate of compliance before they can be rented out. But city officials admit they have let the vast majority of landlords ignore the rules for more than a decade, The News reported last month.
If landlords refuse to follow the rules, renters will be able to escrow rent after a series of deadlines, under regulations passed late last month. Mayor Mike Duggan has added staff and contractors to do rental inspections.
Landlords will need to get an initial $450-$700 lead inspection and then an annual $250 risk assessment, where a trained inspector looks for problems like peeling paint.
Khaldun said the city is launching a lead exposure prevention program this month in partnership with the Wayne State University Center for Urban Studies and ClearCorps Detroit, a nonprofit lead mitigation group.
“They’re already going into the homes and showing families how to appropriately clean their homes so that their children are not at risk, why we thought ‘ Why don’t we move demolition information into those home visits,’ ” Khaldun said.
Abdul El-Sayed., the former city health department director now running for governor, said he led the study on lead exposure and housing demolitions and a task force that compiled recommendations and made sure the report was made public.
The report was posted online, and El-Sayed said he hopes recent media scrutiny will compel more urgent action. He said he’s disappointed that not all of the Task Force’s 18 recommendation have been implemented.
“My hope is they they ... will get this done immediately, because kids deserve the best and they deserve that when the city does something like demolish a home — which I think is done in part for public health purposes, that it is done with public health in mind and that it as safe as it possibly can be,” El-Sayed said.