Comments Off on Methamphetamine contamination causes headache for Salish Kootenai Housing Authority

PABLO – Ever since methamphetamine use began growing here in the mid-1990s, the Salish Kootenai Housing Authority has tested its rental units for signs of meth contamination any time a tenant was evicted because of drug use.Salish Kootenai Housing Authority

But 18 months ago, an incoming tenant asked whether the unit she was moving into had been checked.

“We said no, there was no cause, the previous tenant had simply moved out,” says Jason Adams, the housing authority’s executive director. “But she wanted it tested, and even though it had already been cleaned and painted, it still tested positive for meth.”

That quickly brought about a change in policy. Since then, the housing authority – which oversees 445 rental units on the Flathead Indian Reservation – has tested all units that are vacated for any reason, for meth contamination.

More than half of the tests – 57 percent – have come back positive.


That’s 62 of 110 units tested in the past 18 months, according to Adams, and it’s forcing the housing authority to use money intended for long-term maintenance on cleanup, instead.

It can be expensive.

While low levels of contamination can be dealt with by washing walls and ceilings with chemicals, higher levels are another matter.

In one case, the interior of a unit had to be “gutted down to the studs and rebuilt,” Adams says. The cost for that unit alone: $53,000.

Even low levels of meth contamination can cost $4,000 to $5,000 to remediate, Adams says.

“You have to pay a contractor who does this type of work, and there’s nobody local,” he says. “They have to travel, their insurance costs are high, and they need the right protective equipment. It’s still expensive.”

To date, the housing authority has spent $325,000 to completely remediate and rehabilitate 16 of the 62 units that tested positive for signs of meth – money that was meant to replace roofs, siding and complete other long-term maintenance projects.


Meantime, another 36 units awaiting cleanup sit empty, even as 200 families in need of housing remain on the housing authority’s waiting list.

“It’s hard to tell a family they have to wait longer, but you want to get the house cleaned,” Adams says. The tribes use a contractor out of Missoula, and are in the process of approving a second contractor, from Browning, who is qualified to do the rehabilitation work.

Where does that leave the families on the waiting list?

“The definition of homelessness in Indian Country is different,” Adams says. “It’s two to three families living in one house. Usually, it’s a grandma and grandpa taking them in. You don’t see a lot of people living outside, in tents, although there’s a little of that in the summer. But for the most part, the people on the waiting list are living with relatives.”

In the 1990s, contamination came “primarily from meth labs,” Adams says, but now, meth use itself is a major culprit.

The health effects of living in a house contaminated by meth “are a big unknown,” Adams says. “Our staff has done a great job researching this, and there are yet to be reports that, if you live in a contaminated house, these are the effects.”

It is believed the drug can leave behind toxins that can cause respiratory and other illnesses in adults, children and pets.

“That’s why we’re being proactive,” he goes on. “We want to err on the side of caution, and provide a clean environment for our tenants.”


The new policy, begun 18 months ago, of testing every unit before a new tenant moves in will also allow the housing authority to set a baseline, Adams says.

With the new policy came new language in rental agreements. Tenants must acknowledge that they are moving into a unit that is free from meth contamination.

If they move out later, and the previously clean unit tests positive for meth contamination, they will be on the hook for cleanup costs.

“This isn’t just an issue for Indian tribes, this is an issue in every community, I guarantee you,” Adams says.

In 2013, the Denver Post reported that a Boulder, Colorado, firm that tests for meth, asbestos and other contaminants in residences, was finding meth contamination in half the Colorado homes it was hired to look at.

Gone undetected, meth contamination can linger on surfaces, walls, carpets and in duct work for years.

Adams says the 62 units that have been contaminated by meth were mostly ones that have had high turnover rates.

“Ninety percent of our tenants are good tenants, who abide by the terms of their lease and pay their rent,” Adams says. “We’re seeing most of the meth contamination in high-turnover units. We probably turn over 50 to 60 units a year out of the 445 we have.”

He encourages anyone, anywhere, who suspects drug activity in a home to report their suspicions to law enforcement.

In the meantime, the Salish Kootenai Housing Authority will continue to test every unit that people vacate before renting to a new tenant.

“It’s right there in the lease agreement now,” Adams says. “You acknowledge the unit tested clean, and if you move out and it tests positive for meth contamination, you will pay the cost to clean it.”








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