Tami Paisley always wondered about the safety of her home.

Since it was built in the mid- to late 1800s, Paisley sometimes found herself questioning whether the home’s walls were plastered with toxic, lead-based paint.

For years, the thought crossed her mind. But it was not until recently that she decided to have a family friend take a peek.

The friend recommended Paisley contact East Central Intergovernmental Association, which has a program to assist homeowners outside of the city of Dubuque with the removal of lead paint.

An ensuing inspection found lead-based paint throughout her entire home.

“(It was) in our windows and our baseboards and some of our doors,” she said. “I didn’t expect it to be quite that much, and I was overwhelmed.”

ECIA was awarded a $3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development last year to remove lead paint in Dubuque County homes. But getting residents to apply for assistance has been challenging, according to ECIA officials.

Each home is eligible for up to $20,000 in lead-removal assistance, depending on the property’s needs. And the organization has enough funding to help about 120 residences, said Kim Glaser, community development coordinator with ECIA. Yet, since ECIA began the program, only two residents have applied.

“We are having a hard time getting applicants,” Glaser said. “It really is free money ... (for) making a home healthier and safer for kids.”

The federal government banned the use of lead paint in homes in 1978. Lead poisoning can cause serious health issues, particularly in children younger than 6 years old, but work to remove lead paint safely can be very costly.

County documents from 2019 stated that there were more than 7,200 homes in Dubuque County outside of the city of Dubuque that were built before 1980.

Abatement funding is available for low- and moderate- income homeowners and rental property owners for owner-occupied homes and apartments built before 1978.

Residents, though, must meet certain guidelines.

To qualify, the household must make no more than 80% of the area median income for Dubuque County and have at least one child younger than 6 that lives in or visits the home on a frequent basis.

County documents estimated that there were more than 2,900 children younger than 6 in Dubuque County outside of the city of Dubuque.

While Johnny Randle, of Epworth, no longer has any kids at home, his 4-year-old granddaughter often visits him and his wife, Terri. Randle heard about the ECIA grant program and chose to investigate.

The couple discovered lead-based paint present in their basement. Work to remove it should begin in the next few weeks.

“If you don’t know you have something, then find out you do, it’s kind of shocking,” Randle said.

If it wasn’t for ECIA’s program, Paisley said, her family never would have been able to afford removing all of the lead-based paint in her home. They might not have had an inspection in the first place.

“The fact that we are able to update our house and get some funding is amazing for us,” she said.

For more information or to receive an application, call ECIA at 563-690-5791 or go to https://www.ecia.org/lead/lead_program.cfm.