Syracuse’s problem is not a lack of housing; it is a lack of quality, safe, affordable housing, according to Ben Lockwood, president and CEO of Housing Visions. But now, as you’re driving down Butternut Street, you’ll see something new and uplifting - clean, crisp, new rental units ready for families to call home.
With some apartments complete and others still under construction, this Housing Visions project will ultimately introduce 53 new rental apartments into a Syracuse neighborhood that is in desperate need of healthy, safe and affordable housing. According to the Onondaga County Health Department, more than 21 percent of children living in Census Tract 23 that were tested (which is located just north of Interstate 690 between Pearl and Lodi streets) were shown to have elevated blood lead levels in 2017.
Housing Visions’ Butternut Crossing, located in the same census tract, boasts newly constructed rental homes that are completely lead-free, eliminating the threats of childhood lead poisoning that lie within much of Syracuse’s aging housing stock. The impact of this development will be measured when children living in this neighborhood are re-tested for lead in the future.
A $150,000 grant from the Central New York Community Foundation went towards the buildings’ construction.
“The buildings we demolished were not only full of lead, they were all beyond their useful life due to neglect,” said Lockwood. “Without the grant from the Community Foundation it would have been difficult to undertake the scale of our project.”
The Community Foundation’s grant was one of seven awarded last fall in the first round of grants from its LeadSafeCNY initiative, for which it has committed to invest $2 million over four years. The initiative is designed to tackle the issue of childhood lead poisoning through multiple approaches including funding, impact investing and collaboration to support lead-free housing construction, existing home renovations, community outreach and training, workforce development, and public policy.
Housing Visions’ mission is to work in neighborhoods as a catalyst for positive, sustainable change. The organization works with many populations including those that have encountered significant trauma, such as survivors of domestic violence, homeless veterans, or others with permanent disabilities.
“The great part about working with various populations and communities is that we can blend the need for neighborhood revitalization and housing stability to solve both problems at once,” stated Lockwood. “Additionally, we feel we are adding fabric to the neighborhood. A great neighborhood is a microcosm of our community; homeowners, renters, investors, businesses, employees and other stakeholders.”
This latest project of Housing Visions is a collaborative effort that involves partnerships with The Greater Syracuse Land Bank, Northeast Hawley Development Association, Northside UP, The Syracuse Northeast Community Center, the City of Syracuse, and the Butternut, Pond & Danforth neighborhood group.
The new apartments at Butternut Crossings are typically rented out within one day. As Syracuse residents learn more about the negative effects of lead poisoning, parents are looking for ways to protect their children. Families are often surprised that they have the opportunity to live in a high-quality apartment.
For Lockwood, the decision in addressing the city’s lead crisis is obvious: “We can choose to pay now for safe housing or pay later as a society when we’ve poisoned our children.”