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A healthy home, healthy life

 women standing in front of house

How one North Minneapolis resident updated her house and protected her kids from lead

When Kennitra Wilson first visited what is now her house in North Minneapolis, she knew right away that she could call it home—even if it needed a few fixes. 

“When I found this house I loved it, because it was so homey, it’s close to a bunch of parks. This is house I can raise my family in,” she said. “But at the price point I was looking at, the mortgage needed to be reasonable, because daycare is expensive. All the houses I saw were old houses. I knew I was going to have to fix it up.” 

As a mother of two young children, Raymond and Vivian, Kennitra is always looking out for her family’s safety. So when her real estate agent told her he suspected lead in her house—especially as he eyed some peeling paint on the porch—she knew that addressing the issue would be on the top of her priority list. 

“I decided that was the first thing I was going to do,” she said. “I did a google search, and as soon as I closed on the house, I did the intake form on Hennepin County’s website.” 

What Kennitra learned online is that Hennepin County offers up to $15,000 in lead removal grants for eligible households. The government banned lead paint in 1978, but 75% of homes built before then have some level of lead that is still present. Lead poisoning is especially dangerous for young children and can have serious effects on their health. 

Hennepin County offers a variety of programs, including support to detect and remove lead paint hazards and contamination of common household items to help families prevent and reduce the risk of lead poisoning, and make their homes safer. Since the start of the program in 2004, the county has completed 5,317 lead hazard control projects. 

“Lead poisoning is especially dangerous for children under six, since their brains are still developing,” said Kelly Koch, Principal Planning Analyst for the county’s Lead and Healthy Homes Grant

Program. “On average, about 200 children in Hennepin County are found to have elevated blood levels each year.” 

That’s why Hennepin County’s home repair program aims to remove the presence of lead in homes before it can cause permanent damage. 

two women sitting at a table inside

An easy process with trusted providers

After submitting the intake form and getting an initial assessment that showed lead was present, county Risk Assessor Dale Cooney came to Kennitra’s house and ran detailed tests and reports on the entire house. Dale and his team found that there were high levels of lead present on the porch, four of Kennitra’s windows, in the exterior house paint, in the basement, on the stairs, and on the playroom floor. 

“Dale asked if I wanted to proceed with the work, and I said yes,” explained Kennitra. “Two contractors bid for the work, and we went with the lower one, which was the one I really liked! He was really friendly and had two boys, and we bonded over how wild boys are.” 

The work proceeded in stages, with the outside painting done first while they waited for the new windows to arrive. The contractor told Kennitra that they were working to get all the updates done by Thanksgiving, with the majority of the indoor painting and renovations happening over three to five days. 

“You can either choose to stay with someone else or they put you in a hotel while they do the work.” said Kennitra. “They give you a credit for food too. Our hotel had a swimming pool. The kids loved it!” 

To Kennitra’s surprise, the work was done in only three days. Despite the kids’ love of the hotel swimming pool, they were all happy to be back home—with four new windows, a renovated and repainted porch, and new paint in the basement and playroom. 

Kennitra never used to let the kids play on the porch or the basement. But now, they can use both. “The basement was huge because I wouldn’t allow the kids in the basement when I found out there was lead there. But now they’re super happy to play in the porch and the basement. And they enjoy it. So it makes me feel better for my kids.”

two women outside the house standing by windows

Changes that make a lasting impact

The home repair program not only removes lead paint hazards but acts as a good jumping off point for the repair of other health and safety hazards in the home. “We also did radon testing and mitigation for Kennitra,” said Koch. We can do plumbing and electrical work. Once we’re in a house we have eyes on other hazards and we might have the funding to fix it. We take time to educate families and we care about the longevity of their home and protecting their family.”

The types of changes made in Kennitra’s home not only work to prevent lead poisoning in her kids, but also help to keep her home updated and increase its value. By repeating the process block-by-block, the home repair team also helps to stabilize whole neighborhoods. 

As for Kennitra, she couldn’t be happier with the program. “If you want a healthy home for your children, go and get the lead removed! Get peace of mind. Healthy home, healthy life. That should be my tagline.”