First Grants Showing Noticeable Outcomes, One Year In
The Central New York Community Foundation has awarded its second round of LeadSafeCNY grants, totaling $342,500, to help address childhood lead poisoning in Syracuse. In its first year, the initiative resulted in the installation of lead-free windows and doors in 27 Syracuse housing units; 60 income-eligible residents moved into new, affordable, lead-free apartments built on the Northside; and 36 EPA lead certification certificates earned by area landlords and contractors.
The Community Foundation established LeadSafeCNY in 2018, committing to invest $2 million over four years, to fund a variety of approaches to address the region’s alarming childhood lead poisoning rates. According to the Onondaga County Health Department, more than 10 percent of Syracuse children tested in 2018 were shown to have elevated blood lead levels. That rate has improved by nearly one percent from 2017.
This year’s grants are supporting existing home renovations, community outreach, training and public policy and systems change. The grants include:
- $75,000 to Home HeadQuarters to expand its window and exterior door replacement program
- $150,000 to Greater Syracuse Land Bank to renovate and remediate lead in ten units to provide affordable housing to those forced to move as a result of the I-81 transition
- $25,000 to the Lead Poisoning Prevention Statewide Advocacy Network to influence statewide legislation that reduces lead poisoning across New York State
- $20,000 to Home HeadQuarters to offer EPA-certified workforce lead removal training to landlords and contractors
- $22,500 to Tomorrows Neighborhoods Today to educate residents on the importance of lead testing and remediation
- $15,000 to WCNY to create public service announcements on the dangers of lead poisoning
- $35,000 to Home HeadQuarters to provide assistance to Green & Healthy Homes Greater Syracuse
The Community Foundation’s efforts are primarily focused on Syracuse census tracts that were found in 2018 to have the highest blood lead levels in children. Among them is Census Tract 54, where a striking 46 percent of residents live below the poverty line. According to the Onondaga County Health Department, nearly 27 percent of that neighborhood’s children were found to have elevated lead levels in 2018. Surrounding communities show similar data with rates ranging from 20 to 22 percent. LeadSafeCNY’s first grant recipients are reporting some promising outcomes one year in.
In its first round of grants in 2018, Home HeadQuarters received $150,000 to pilot a window and doors replacement program and another $20,000 to train landlords and contractors to be EPA-certified for lead remediation. Since then, windows and doors have been replaced in 21 rental housing units so far, and there is a waitlist of neighbors hopeful to receive replacements next, thanks to this year’s additional funding toward the project.
Home HeadQuarters has also experienced an overwhelming response to its EPA-certification program. Since the program was implemented last fall, more than 39 training opportunities and 36 certifications have been obtained by landlords and contractors of homes in Syracuse with lead paint.
“This year’s much-needed expansion of grant funding will allow us to address our current waitlist for EPA certification training for landlords and contractors,” said Katie Bronson, director of community housing initiatives at Home HeadQuarters. “It also extends our windows and doors program for landlords in the 13205 zip code, which is one of the hottest areas for elevated lead blood levels in the city.”
Housing Visions received a $150,000 LeadSafeCNY grant last year toward the construction of Butternut Crossing, a new 53-unit affordable apartment complex on Syracuse’s Northside that is 75 percent through completion. So far, more than 60 income-eligible residents are now living in lead-free homes.
Ben Lockwood, Housing Visions president, and CEO, says the new apartments are typically rented out within one day. He’s found that families are often surprised that they have the opportunity to live in a high-quality apartment.
“The buildings we demolished to construct this complex were not only full of lead, they were all beyond their useful life due to neglect,” said Lockwood. “We feel we are adding fabric to the neighborhood. We can choose to pay now for safe housing or pay later as a society when we’ve poisoned our children.”
In an Action Statement published on its website, the Community Foundation states that it is taking action now because “lead poisoning is entirely preventable,” yet it currently hinders children’s ability to enter the classroom ready to learn.
Elevated blood lead levels in young children have been found to cause reduced brain function, impacting the skills needed for academic success, physical activity, and social interaction. This can lead to a higher likelihood of ADHD diagnosis, absenteeism, criminal behavior, violence, and suicide.
Lead is a toxin that affects the brain, nervous system, and multiple organs in the human body. Children under the age of six and pregnant women living in homes that have chipping, flaking, and peeling paint are most susceptible. A common source of ingestion is the inhalation of dust particles in the air from the friction of painted surfaces when windows, doors, and cabinets are opened and closed.
Syracuse’s aging housing stock is much to blame for the high rates of elevated lead levels in resident children. More than 90 percent of the city’s occupied units were built before lead paint was federally banned from use in 1978.
Those interested in learning more about the grants or viewing local lead data can visit leadsafecny.org.