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Onondaga County will withhold public assistance to multi-family properties with lead

Tom Magnarelli
WRVO Public Media
Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon with other elected officials, in front of Amber Mathews' home in Syracuse.

Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon issued an executive order, which holds public assistance payments to multi-family properties if lead is detected in any of the units. It’s part of the county’s plan to get property owners to fix the problem, in some of the area’s older housing stock.

Amber Mathews has been living in her two-family home on Syracuse’s south side all her life. It’s an older-built home, she has young kids, and she was worried about lead. Lead poisoning in children can negatively affect their physical and mental growth. Mathews’ tenant qualified for an Onondaga County lead program that makes necessary repairs to a property to alleviate lead from older homes.

Credit Tom Magnarelli / WRVO Public Media
WRVO Public Media
Amber Mathews, right, with Russell Mike, an Onondaga County community development inspector.

“They assisted with siding, it’s a huge home, some window replacements, and they also did some painting,” Mathews said.

It took about two weeks and didn’t cost Mathews anything.  

“This house, which was in desperate need of repair, has been made into a home," Mathews said. "Now I know my children are safe and it’s also a financial break.”

County Executive McMahon said the program is meant to entice property owners to be proactive. The county has already been freezing any public assistance payments to a single unit that has lead. But McMahon said that doesn’t always work.

“Sometimes that works well and the landlord is responsive," McMahon said. "Sometimes we’ve had cases where 11 months later, the issue is not solved yet.”

So, this new executive order expands on that to say if lead is detected in one unit, public assistance payments will be held for any other units on that property, until the landlord complies.

“If you are doing your job as a landlord, and you’re alerted to something you did not know about beforehand, then fix it," McMahon said. "As soon as it’s fixed, we’ll continue with the proper payments.”

Eleven percent of children tested in Syracuse have elevated blood lead levels. But in recent years, those numbers have been declining in the city and the county.

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.