City approves $ 1.3 million lead pipe loan program

The program will provide up to 450 interest-free loans of $ 3,000 to help homeowners replace lead water pipes, costing the city $ 100,000

THUNDER BAY – The City of Thunder Bay will provide more than $ 1.3 million in interest-free loans to homeowners, hoping to speed up the removal of lead water lines from approximately 8,700 local homes.

City council voted unanimously Monday to approve a program offering loans of up to $ 3,000 each to help homeowners meet the costs of replacing lead hookups on private properties.

“We hope that people with lead services will benefit from it,” said Country. Brand Bentz. “This is a great opportunity to improve your home at no interest charge, which is a great deal.”

Depending on the city, replacing lead service connections often costs between $ 2,000 and $ 4,000, although in some cases it can be much more expensive.

The new initiative comes as the city faces a $ 350 million class action lawsuit filed by residents over an earlier effort to address the lead contamination problem by adding sodium hydroxide to its water supply.

Lead levels were set to rise in thousands of local homes that still have lead pipes, after the city ended the program in January 2020 following an alarming increase in leaks of pins across the city .

Exposure to lead in drinking water is particularly dangerous for children and can affect the development of the brain and nervous system.

The new loan program will leverage $ 100,000 in financing to provide up to $ 1.35 million in loans, or 450 loans of $ 3,000 each.

The loans will be repaid monthly over five-year terms, with a ten-year option for low-income people.

Communities like Ottawa, Guelph, Hamilton and Brantford offer some form of loan or grant program for lead water pipes, said environmental director Michelle Warywoda.

The program cost of $ 100,000 reflects estimated lost interest income over the life of the loans and the costs of administering the program.

City council voted over the summer to allocate that amount from the city’s stabilization reserve fund to a subsidy program. However, the board accepted the administration’s recommendation to offer a loan program instead, in order to increase its impact.

Advisers congratulated the administration for the design of the program on Monday.

“I think it’s been quite creative and innovative in terms of trying to maximize $ 100,000 and put out a lot of money to do a job that’s important,” said Country. André Foulds, who originally offered to fund a program last year.

However, he expressed concern that even the ten-year interest-free loan option could be a barrier for some low-income households, suggesting that a subsidy option could also be recommended.

“If we don’t gain momentum on this program, to me it’s a wake-up call that we will have to do something more to get off the pitch,” he said. “I am interested in setting up perhaps part of the grant for incentive more citizens to get involved.

Adoption so far has been low, with just 25 applications received since the city started offering loans over the summer.

Staff attributed this in part to the pandemic and assured council the city will more aggressively promote the opportunity as the 2021 construction season begins in the spring.

The administration will report on the use of the program in fall 2021.

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