My Turn: With lead law, state isn’t stepping up to the plate

For the Monitor
Published: 1/17/2018 12:15:13 AM

To the N.H. Senate and the Governor: There has been recent press from legislators saying it’s time we stepped up to the plate regarding lead levels in children. Unfortunately, in the latest version of Senate Bill 247 the House of Representatives has thrown away the Senate’s work doing just that.

The previous lead commission of 2008 clearly articulated that the lead issue is huge and requires all stakeholders on all sides to actively participate in its solution. Lead is a societal issue that has been dumped onto us by the government and previous (and current) players in the paint and lead industry.

In a show of insight and wisdom, the version of the bill passed by the Senate in 2017 was in agreement with the stakeholders from each side, who over the course of more than two years sought an equitable solution to New Hampshire’s lead issue. The lead commission, the Senate policy committee, the full Senate, the House policy committee and originally the entire House created a desperately needed grant program to aid in funding proactive primary preventive lead remediation. New Hampshire had finally “stepped up to the plate.”

The current House version of the bill has negated the balance in the original bill, and will be a travesty for New Hampshire’s real estate industry and housing market.

The House version of SB 247 will:

– Significantly increase rents to cover the cost of thousands more abatement orders

– Make housing less affordable

– Create more foreclosures with less housing available

– Create a huge reduction in rental property value for all of New Hampshire’s “old” housing stock.

Some numbers

In 2015, 59 children measured at or above the 10 ug/dl (micrograms per deciliter) action level while 548 measured from 5 to 10 ug/dl, the new action level in the House version of bill.

With the lower action level, if those additional 548 are in a four-family building that would result in 2,192 additional units requiring abatement (548 x 4 = 2,192).

In the city of Claremont’s voluntary increased lead testing effort, a higher amount of testing has resulted in the same or higher percentage of children with elevated levels.

Therefore it is easy math to project that with the increased testing from 16 percent to 85 percent (expected increase due to the universal testing provisions of the bill), then 2,192 becomes at least 11,645, (2,192/16 x 85 =11,645). If half of those units don’t have children or pregnant women, it is still 5,822, (11,645/2 = 5,822) additional units per year under abatement order. Remembering that the common areas, exterior and grounds would still need to be abated, the average cost of $10,000 to $20,000 per unit will be toward the higher range. Even at only $15,000 per unit, that is $87.33 million (5,822 x $15,000 = $87.33 million) every year coming out of the real estate market. Any guesses what devastating effects that will bring?

And we well know that the property is sometimes not the source of the lead elevation, yet the state still mandates the abatement using the most expensive methods available.

The loan fund that has been talked about is practically of no use. First off, it is not a loan fund. The state is only offering a guarantee for a loan that banks would likely not make. A banking lobbyist working with this bill has said banks would not likely make the loan because it would be a second or third mortgage position, and the debt-to-income ratio would likely be too far off. Also, if there is a lead order then the property would be too risky for a loan anyway.

The banking industry thinks the loan guarantee will have limited use. Bankers are unsure of what protections they will receive from the state and what the state expects from them for collection efforts. Bankers also feel that the state should have some skin in the game.

The grant program, on the other hand, would address these concerns and fall in line with other states offering tax credits against income tax for lead remediation.

I urge our legislators to bring back the original grant program and make the state of New Hampshire one of the players with “skin in the game.”

(Nick Norman is government affairs chairman for the Apartment Association of New Hampshire. He also manages residential rentals in Manchester and Derry, and is a member of several state landlord associations.)

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