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Syracuse makes third attempt at funding its lead paint removal program

Wayne Marshall
via Flickr

Onondaga County and the city of Syracuse have applied for funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to continue a lead paint removal program. The city has been unsuccessful in its last two attempts at funding since its program was put on probation in 2013.

HUD officials said the Syracuse lead program was not sampling homes correctly. If it was determined that some of the windows in a home had lead in them, workers presumed all the other windows in the home did as well.

Paul Driscoll, Syracuse’s commissioner of neighborhood and business development says there is plenty of documentation that showed that this was allowed. But Syracuse’s lead program had to shut down and it has not been funded since, even after HUD officials removed the probation.

“It’s gotten much more competitive and the funds have either stayed the same or dropped so you’re bound to lose a couple in a row once in a while.”

The plan this year is for the city of Syracuse and Onondaga County applications to work strategically together. The county staff would perform the lead risk assessments and the city would handle the finances and decide which projects move forward in city neighborhoods disproportionately more distressed.

Driscoll said two-thirds of children in the county tested with high lead levels live in those neighbhorhoods.

“It’s that mixture of the age of the housing stock, combined with the general wealth of the population, statistics would bear out that the majority of the problem are in these high poverty areas,” Driscoll said. "A lot of the houses on the Near West Side are over 100 years old. We've seen a lot of dis-investment over the years and that's a recipe for this problem."

With resources running thin, Driscoll said their attention is focused on the 600 children in Onondaga County with high lead levels.

"We had to be very strategic and judicious about how we apply these funds," Driscoll said. "We'll take referrals from anywhere but we have to reserve our main resources for actual cases of elevated blood lead levels."

Both the county and the city are applying for $3 million each in funding. HUD is expected to make a decision within the next 90 days.

Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York.