The Community Foundation took the unusual step last week of endorsing legislation put forth by the Syracuse Common Council. The proposed ordinance would make the presence of lead a housing code violation during interior housing inspections of one- and two-unit rental properties. Prior to this, homes could only be cited for visible chipping or peeling paint.
This is our first-ever local policy endorsement, and we chose to do this now for good reason. There is no safe blood lead level in children and once its damage is done, it is irreversible. Ingestion of lead can damage brain development and rob children of the ability to reach their full potential. These complications undermine all community efforts to increase literacy rates, encourage high school completion and mentor our young people into successful careers.
In 2018, more than 10 percent of Syracuse children tested were shown to have elevated lead levels, according to the Onondaga County Health Department. In some neighborhoods of Syracuse, that number is much higher. More than 26 percent of children living in the Brighton neighborhood of Syracuse’s Southside have elevated lead levels.
The proposed ordinance is the missing link in a series of changes that have occurred over the past few years to decrease lead poisoning in Syracuse. The 2018 creation of the City’s Bureau of Administrative Adjudication made it easier to enforce housing code violations; the Onondaga County Executive issued an order in 2019 that withholds rent subsidies to landlords whose properties have open lead violations; and the District Attorney’s office began publicly cracking down on egregious landlords with open or uncorrected lead-related violations. Those interested can learn more about how the ordinance coordinates with these other efforts by viewing our white paper, A Steady March Forward: The Critical Next Step to Address Lead Poisoning in Syracuse, at leadsafecny.org.
As a community, each poisoned child comes with a cost that is effectively a tax paid by all of us. That is why we encourage residents of the City of Syracuse and surrounding communities to let their voices be heard during the legislation’s open comment period, set to run from February 5 to March 6. Community members will be invited to give their input on the City of Syracuse website or by emailing KTowsley@syrgov.net. In addition, an in-person public forum is scheduled for 5:30 pm on February 12 in City Hall’s Common Council Chambers.
We shouldn’t have to wait for children to be poisoned with lead before we take action as a community to assure safe and habitable spaces where they can live and thrive. Fortunately, our community is not standing still, but rather making progressive, systematic change in addressing lead poisoning in our children. The passage of this lead ordinance would close the loop on a process that will identify the problem of lead exposure before waiting to address its many negative outcomes. We encourage the Council to act and adopt this ordinance.