The state of Maine’s rental housing stock — like its population — isn’t getting any younger. Although lead paint was outlawed nationwide in 1978, thousands of units around the state of Maine are still contaminated with lead paint. New Federal regulations require landlords to clean up the problem. But as a report by the nonprofit Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting makes clear, getting the job done is not going to be simple, or cheap.

The Maine Sun-Journal carried the story on August 8. The report focuses on the towns of Lewiston and Auburn, Maine (see: “Lewiston-Auburn at ground zero in war on lead poisoning,” by Naomi Schalit). “The battered residential buildings of downtown Lewiston and Auburn still provide stark testament that the war on childhood lead poisoning has not yet been won,” the paper reports. “Between 2009 and 2014, 467 Maine children were identified as lead-poisoned, and 97 of those children were from the Lewiston-Auburn area.”

The two cities have federal money to help clean up the lead. But most landlords — many of them absentees — don’t know the funds are available. And anyway, landlords are reluctant to get involved, fearing that a lead inspection will uncover other code violations they’ll have to fix.

And the economics are discouraging even with the federal aid. From the report: “The landlords face a simple money problem: There’s a glut of rental housing in the cities’ downtowns, and the rents for their apartments are consequently very low — $500 for a one-bedroom, for example.
With buildings worth very little and maintenance expenses high, ‘the numbers just don’t work’ for landlords who have to spend $7,000 or more per unit to fix the lead problem, said Gil Arsenault, Lewiston’s Director of Planning and Code Enforcement. ‘It’s a tough, tough business.’  In the past three years, Arsenault said, the city has had to demolish ‘about 75 buildings’ that owners walked away from rather than fix up.”