Problem Solver: Lead paint leads to frustration

After 7 month delay, removal should be complete within weeks, Cook County officials say

When Nicolas Ornelas bought his two-flat in January, he knew it would need some work.

He bought the Blue Island property after it had been foreclosed on, which meant it was a bit ragged. Ornelas planned to fix it up and rent it out.

Ornelas wasn't surprised to learn the house was riddled with lead paint.

Cook County inspectors showed him the areas where they found the paint, then told him of a county-run grant program that provides money and contractors to remove the lead.

Ornelas filled out an application and was approved Feb. 22.

He was told at the time that it would take about six weeks to complete the work, he said.

He waited patiently for months, but the contractors never showed.

Over the summer, Ornelas completed all other repairs to the house. He was told by Blue Island officials that the village would not provide a final inspection until the lead abatement was done.

Without the final inspection, he cannot rent the property, Ornelas said.

So it sits vacant.

Ornelas made repeated calls to the agency that runs the lead abatement program, the Cook County Department of Public Health, he said.

"They just say as soon as they hear of a set date that they will begin to work and clean the lead, they will contact me," Ornelas said. "The worst part is that they have mentioned to me that somehow they skipped my house and have done others that were approved after I was approved for the lead removal work."

Tired of waiting, Ornelas emailed What's Your Problem? in early September.

With winter approaching, he soon will be paying heating bills on a property he can't rent, he said.

"I don't think I'm asking for much. Just an estimated time, how soon they could take care of me," he said. "If it's going to be another two months, that's fine — just let me know."

The Problem Solver called Amy Poore, spokeswoman for the Cook County Department of Public Health.

After researching Ornelas' case, Poore said mistakes had been made.

"His property fell through the cracks," she said. "Our finance department said it dropped the ball on this."

Poore said a contractor visited Ornelas' house in March and submitted the proper paperwork to the county less than three weeks later. The repairs should have been approved a short time later but weren't, she said.

She expects funding for the repairs to be approved within days. After that, it generally takes contractors six to eight weeks to complete the work, Poore said.

She said the county has reviewed its procedures to make improvements.

"They have a system in place now to make sure that doesn't happen again," Poore said. "It's very unfortunate this happened and we're very sorry he had to wait as long as he did."

Ornelas said he will believe it when the contractors arrive.

"It sounds great if it's true," he said. "I've been waiting a long time."

The Problem Solver will provide updates as warranted.

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