San Francisco and Madison Take Action on Lead and Mold in Housing

On Nov. 3, 2022, Healthy Babies Bright Futures held their third workshop in a four-part series showcasing two cities – Madison, WI and San Francisco, CA – taking action to combat lead and mold in multifamily housing. The programs are unique in that they couple energy efficiency assessment with lead and mold identification, an innovation often discussed but to date rarely implemented on the ground.

Panelists included Madison, WI Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway, Chief Strategy Officer at Elevate Energy Abigail Corso, and Senior Energy Specialist at San Francisco Environment Department Ryan Ramos. While San Francisco’s program began as a lead intervention program that added energy efficiency opportunities, and Madison’s program seized an opportunity to add lead and mold inspection to an existing energy efficiency assessment program, they share the goal of making housing healthier, safer, and more efficient for residents.

Both San Francisco’s “Fix Lead SF” program and Madison’s “Building Navigator” used existing data and mapping to identify properties to target for their programs. Madison used census data that helped to layer income, age of housing, and location within the floodplain, allowing the program to target homes most at risk for higher levels of lead and mold. San Francisco drew on data from their Department of Public Health showing areas of the city with the highest blood lead levels and designated three zip codes as high risk to be served by the program. 

To encourage program enrollment, San Francisco worked with its Department of Public Health to automatically enroll properties with lead violations in their program, while Madison reached out to alders to help identify landlords that might be interested in the program. Because both programs were voluntary, both cities used incentives to get building owners involved, for example, making grant money available for building repairs and inspections.  

Session speakers raised two emerging needs:

  1. Workforce development programs to ensure local contractors are available and trained appropriately for this work.
  2. Effective strategies and measures to showcase the benefits these programs offer, not just to building residents but to the entire community.

While challenges and opportunities will vary in each city, panelists shared that by learning from existing programs and collaborating with community organizations, cities can work to improve housing quality, enhance public health, increase energy efficiency, and support a pipeline of good quality jobs in their communities. 

“Think about who else is doing something similar, even if it’s not directly on mold or directly on lead or directly on energy and learn from that,” shared Mayor Rhodes-Conway. “Be creative because I think every place can do a version of this. It’s going to look a little different everywhere, but I think that there are ways to do this layering pretty much everywhere.”

This workshop series from Healthy Babies Bright Futures is focused on innovations in financing and implementing lead exposure reduction programs in US cities. Session recordings and a list of co-sponsoring organizations are available on the workshop webpage, along with registration information for the final webinar in the series on Dec. 8 at 4pm ET. This final session will focus on ways to mitigate workforce hazards associated with home renovations for lead and mold. 

Madison, WI is a proud participant in the Healthy Babies Initiative, a joint small grant program of the Mayors Innovation Project and Healthy Babies Bright Futures that aims to support city-led efforts to reduce neurotoxic exposures in pregnant mothers and young children. You can read more about the project on our website.