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‘Dustin Luke Shields Act’ would increase lead testing in rental housing

Ticiea Fletcher took her 10-month-old son to a normal wellness check in 2010 when it was discovered he had lead poisoning. Fletcher, who lived in south Minneapolis at the time, then had her daughter checked with tests revealing the same diagnosis.

The “Dustin Luke Shields Act,” named for Fletcher’s son, would increase lead testing in rental housing to help families avoid similar outcomes to Fletcher’s family.

“It’s something that’s preventable, but it happens and it should not,” said Rep. Hodan Hassan (DFL-Mpls).

Sponsored by Rep. Peter Fischer (DFL-Maplewood), HF616 would provide grants to increase lead testing in order to make rental housing safer. The bill was laid over by the House Housing Finance and Policy Committee Tuesday for possible omnibus bill inclusion. Its companion, SF1077, is sponsored by Sen. Karin Housley (R-Stillwater) and awaits action by the Senate Housing Finance and Policy Committee.

The bill would appropriate $1 million in fiscal years 2022 and 2023 to the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency for the pilot program. Two grants would then be provided: one to a project serving the Twin Cities metropolitan area and one for a project outside the metro.

Grants would go to a nonprofit or political subdivision to provide lead testing and hazard reduction in rental units. Priority would be given to “landlords and tenants where there are high concentrations of lead poisoning in children based on information provided by the commissioner of health.”

The grants must fund testing and hazard reduction for:

  • landlords with 11 or fewer units where tenant income doesn’t exceed 60% of the area median income;
  • landlords with at least 12 units where 50% of tenants have income not exceeding 60% of the area median income; and
  • tenants whose income doesn’t exceed 60% of the area median income.

Landlords and tenants must also first access other available state and federal funding they are eligible for regarding lead testing and hazard reduction.

Sue Watlov Phillips, executive director of Metropolitan Interfaith Council on Affordable Housing, said studies from the Department of Health show 84% of lead poisoning in children is from lead paint and that over 700 children in Minnesota each year sustain lead poisoning.

“It really is not enough, it’s not sufficient,” said Rep. Aisha Gomez (DFL-Mpls). “We should not be using little kids as lead evaluation monitors. We should not wait until a baby gets sick, a kid like Dustin has his entire life changed before we require property owners to take action. I believe it’s a basic piece of responsibility. If you are renting a property, an apartment or house to somebody, you should be able to tell them that their baby’s not going to be poisoned by living there.”

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