The Syracuse community has been fighting to put an end to childhood lead poisoning but there is much ground to cover. Tomorrow’s Neighborhoods Today (TNT) is stepping in to help by raising awareness among community members about the opportunities families have to protect themselves from this danger.
“Parents feel very badly that their kids are harmed; they feel responsible when their child is exposed to lead. But it isn’t just their responsibility,” said Jaime Howley, co-chair of the Neighborhood and Housing Taskforce at TNT. “It is the responsibility of the community and our society as a whole. We should work together to give them the facts and the support they need, simply because we love our children and want the damage to stop.”
The strategy for TNT has been to get out into the neighborhoods, talk to residents face-to-face, and provide them with useful information on how to test for lead and find resources needed to remediate it from their homes. Without this outreach, many community members may have no knowledge of the lead paint risk that still exists.
“Despite the fact that Syracuse’s lead paint problem has been around for a long time, people’s reactions are ‘I thought that wasn’t a problem anymore,’” said Howley. “As a community, we stopped talking about it at some point, but the problem never went away.”
Howley emphasized that the concern and risk is greatest for those living in homes built before lead paint was banned in 1978, especially in poorly maintained rental properties found in neighborhoods of high poverty. This, Howley points out, leaves residents extremely susceptible to lead exposure. View a map of lead poisoning rates in high-poverty neighborhoods of Syracuse.
“Lead disproportionately damages the most vulnerable children in our city,” said Howley. “The neighborhoods that we target, and that are most at risk, are home to New Americans and other groups who are dealing with a number of other challenges.”
TNT’s main message to residents is that lead poisoning most commonly occurs from peeling, flaking or chipping paint on windows, doors, porches and floors. The invisible dust that results from friction of these surfaces is the most dangerous. As an immediate stop-gap measure, they recommend that residents remove lead debris with disposable wet wipes.
As part of their outreach efforts, TNT has canvased neighborhoods with bags full of informative handouts and free wet wipes, attended community events to distribute resources, collaborated with other organizations and held the Get the Lead Out of the Block Party in Southside Syracuse.
The Central New York Community Foundation helped launch these outreach efforts with a $30,000 grant through its LeadSafeCNY initiative, a multi-year commitment to help decrease the region’s alarming childhood lead poisoning rates.
“The only way out of this is to work together,” Howley added. “Community support and collaboration are so important, and that is why I am very happy that the Community Foundation supports this mission and our message to reach out to these parents.”
This fall, TNT will be participating in a series of Town Hall events hosted by the Onondaga County Health Department to provide community members information regarding lead poisoning prevention. Registration is available online. They will also be attending a Legislative Lobby Day hosted by the David B. Falk College of Sport and Human Dynamics at Syracuse University to speak with New York State legislators on behalf of residents affected by lead poisoning.
TNT’s goals are to increase the number of children and homes tested, decrease the number of children with elevated blood lead levels and empower individuals to advocate for lead safe homes. These goals, Howley believes, will require dedication from TNT volunteers, but also from every resident in the area.
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.”
* Our initial four-year commitment was extended to five-years following construction, renovation, and training delays due to COVID-19.
Syracuse’s aging housing stock, of which a high proportion is privately-owned rental units, is still poisoning children with lead, nearly 40 years after lead paint was banned. That is because deferred maintenance on low-income rental properties has led to chipping, flaking and peeling paint that can be accidentally ingested or inhaled by dust.
The responsibility of keeping these homes safe from lead falls into the hands of landlords, but oftentimes the cost of necessary renovations serves as a deterrent to making improvements. Full remediation of a large home in a depressed neighborhood can sometimes cost more than its value. Yet, our children are paying the real price. According to the Onondaga Health Department, more than 11 percent of Syracuse children tested in 2017 were shown to have elevated levels.
Thankfully, a new window and door replacement program organized by Home HeadQuarters is helping make these changes more affordable.
Sam Rowser, a landlord and resident of Syracuse’s Southside, rents his five-bedroom property on Wood Avenue to a family with four children. Rowser decided to keep open dialogue with his tenant when he discovered the home contained lead paint.
“I had been trying to fix up the house when I discovered there was lead paint chipping off the walls, doors and windows,” said Rowser. “I didn’t have the money to replace them before my tenant moved in, so I immediately informed her of the issue and we worked together to find a solution.”
Rowser is one of the first participants of Home HeadQuarters’ Windows and Doors program, which launched in November to help Syracuse landlords of low-income rental property units located in high needs neighborhoods replace windows and exterior doors at no cost.
The Central New York Community Foundation helped pilot the program with a $150,000 grant through its LeadSafeCNY initiative, a multi-year commitment to help decrease the region’s alarming childhood lead poisoning rates.
Home HeadQuarters is utilizing the grant to focus on neighborhoods where elevated blood levels were found to be highest in children – Census Tract 23, located just north of Interstate 690 between Pearl and Lodi streets and Census Tract 54, located in the Brighton neighborhood of Syracuse’s Southside.
“Many landlords cannot afford purchasing necessary restoration materials which becomes even more difficult in areas where the homes are larger and contain higher amounts of windows and doors that need replacing,” said Katie Bronson, director of community housing initiatives at Home HeadQuarters. “Our highest priority is tackling these neighborhoods to quickly decrease the blood levels in children.”
Lead poisoning can have a long-lasting and permanent impact on the health of children, causing reverberating effects on the community for generations to come. For Rowser, the importance of devoting the necessary resources to eliminating lead poisoning is an issue he feels Syracuse needs to tackle together.
“If we are looking to maintain a strong and efficient community, it could start with something as simple as safe windows and doors,” said Rowser. “Anyone that’s a landlord, especially in older neighborhoods where lead paint is most prevalent, should really consider engaging with programs that can help them remediate lead in their homes.”
To learn more about Home HeadQuarters’ Windows & Doors Program, visit: https://www.homehq.org/ghhi
To learn more about LeadSafeCNY, visit: http://www.leadsafecny.org
Family Seeking Refuge Finds Hidden Danger in Safe Haven
Bea Lea, a new American and mother of three young children, didn’t expect to be fighting another battle here in the United States when she fled her native country of Congo. Her eyes have seen a lot, including the deaths of her father and brother, but nothing prepared her for what the family would endure shortly after they moved into their first home on the Northside of Syracuse.
At first glance, her oldest son, George, age three, is an outgoing, vivacious toddler trying to keep up with his siblings. However, underneath the smiles and countless conversations he tries to convey is a young boy who has already been robbed of his childhood.
Lea doesn’t remember the exact day George fell violently ill, but she said she remembers being at a standstill, scared of the sudden sickness George was exhibiting. Extreme bouts of diarrhea and uncontrolled vomiting consumed him. Frightened, Lea took him to the hospital where he was later found to have a blood lead level of 32 micrograms per deciliter.
“I kept saying ‘what is lead?’ to the doctor,” said Lea. “I was confused because in my country we don’t have lead.”
The Federal Government banned the use of lead paint in 1978. But the poisoned paint still lingers in walls, doors and porches in numerous Syracuse homes. About 91 percent of homes in Syracuse were built before 1980, according to the U.S. Census.
George has already gone through three very painful medical procedures known as Chelation Therapy. The procedure itself involves the administration of chelating agents to remove heavy metals from the body. When Lea took her son back to the hospital for a check-up, it had been discovered that George’s blood lead level had risen to 38 and then again to 42 micrograms per deciliter.
“After Legal Services of Central New York educated me on lead in my home, I went back to the doctors and said, ‘I believe my baby is going to die” said Lea. “‘And if my baby dies, you’re going to have to kill me, too, so you need to help me get out of this home.’”
Since the move, Lea says that her son’s blood lead levels are slowly coming down.
“New Americans come to the United States to make a better life for themselves and their children,” said Lea. “We are walking right into a new danger in a place we thought would provide us safety.”
Lea has been unable to work because of the constant care that George requires. She expresses that a part of her identity has been lost in all of this, too. George is not currently enrolled in school because of his health.
“Imagine being told your child will never be smart again,” said Lea. “Knowing that your child was born healthy and smiling and he is now changed forever.”
Lea says she wants people to be held accountable for their actions and the government to take measurable steps to ensure this doesn’t continue to happen in Syracuse.
“We need to talk to the government and really do something,” she said. “The landlords of these homes already know that their properties have a problem with lead. If something is done we can put an end to this.”
It is time to eradicate childhood lead poisoning in Syracuse for good.
Together, we can do better for our children.
October 24, 2018 (Syracuse, NY) - The Central New York Community Foundation announced today that it will be investing more than $2 million over four* years to help end childhood lead poisoning in Syracuse. Its new LeadSafeCNY initiative will fund a variety of approaches to address the region’s alarming childhood lead poisoning rates. According to the Onondaga County Health Department, more than 11 percent of Syracuse children tested in 2017 were shown to have elevated blood lead levels.
The initiative’s first grants are going to support new housing construction, existing home renovations, community outreach and training and workforce development, totaling $439,750. Among the grants are $150,000 to Home HeadQuarters to pilot a window and exterior door replacement program, $1,000 to PEACE, Inc. to refer applicants to the new Home HeadQuarters replacement program, $150,000 to Housing Visions Unlimited to construct new affordable rental apartments, $43,750 to the Greater Syracuse Land Bank to conduct lead inspections of its properties, $20,000 to Home HeadQuarters to offer EPA certified workforce lead removal training and $30,000 to Tomorrows Neighborhoods Today and Home HeadQuarters to educate residents on the importance of lead testing and remediation. View all of the grants.
“I applaud the Community Foundation’s data-driven approach to coordinating community partners in an effort to reduce blood lead levels in children and families,” said Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh. “These investments will increase the number of lead-safe homes in the city, especially in areas where there is the highest concentration of children at risk of elevated lead levels. Building lead-safe, affordable housing, providing workforce opportunities and collaborating on community awareness around lead poisoning are all objectives in line with the city’s plans and objectives.”
The Community Foundation will focus its initial efforts in and near two Syracuse census tracts that were found in 2017 to have the highest blood lead levels in children. The first is tract 23, which is located just north of Interstate 690 between Pearl and Lodi streets. Here, more than 21 percent of children tested were shown to have elevated lead levels. Large refugee communities live in this neighborhood, which boasts a 29 percent foreign born population.
Census tract 54 is located in the Brighton neighborhood of Syracuse’s Southside and includes the immediate area around the Beauchamp Library. Here, a striking 46 percent of residents live below the poverty line. In this region, more than 24 percent of children tested had elevated lead levels. This blood lead level data was provided by the Onondaga County Health Department.
“We are grateful to the health department for making this data set available to us because it allows those organizing around this issue to focus their efforts where it is needed the most,” said Frank Ridzi, vice president, community investment at the Community Foundation. “By annually analyzing this information, we’ll be able to measure our effectiveness over time.”
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.
“The effects lead has on the mind and body undermine all community efforts to increase literacy rates, encourage high school completion and mentor our young people into successful careers,” said Peter Dunn, Community Foundation president and CEO. “Lead poisoning is preventable, which makes this a social, economic and environmental injustice that is simply unacceptable to continue.”
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. It 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. Lead paint chips tend to have a sweet flavor when eaten, making them enticing to young children. Another 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.
A number of the Community Foundation’s first LeadSafeCNY grants are in support of strategies outlined in Get the Lead Out: Lead Poisoning Prevention Plan, produced by the Green & Healthy Homes Initiative Greater Syracuse (GHHI). The plan describes actions that can be taken to decrease exposure to lead hazards, protect at-risk populations and encourage cross-program coordination.
“GHHI, along with its many community partners, the Onondaga County Health Department and concerned residents, have been working together for some time to address the issue of lead poisoning in Syracuse,” said Dunn. “We are looking forward to boosting their efforts for even greater impact.”
October 21-27 marks National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week. The campaign, spearheaded by the Centers of Disease Control, aims to raise awareness to reduce childhood exposure to lead and encourage implementation of local activities and events in target communities.
About the Central New York Community Foundation
The Central New York Community Foundation was established in 1927 to serve as a permanent community endowment built by the gifts and charitable legacies of individuals, families and businesses for the betterment of the region. It is the largest charitable foundation in Central New York with assets of more than $272 million. It has invested more than $190 million in community improvement projects since its inception. As a grantmaker, civic leader, convener and sponsor of special initiatives, the Community Foundation strives to strengthen local nonprofits, encourage better understanding of the region and address the most critical issues of our time. Its vision is to create a vibrant Central New York community that provides opportunity for everyone and builds a hopeful, prosperous region for future generations.
* Our initial four-year commitment was extended to five-years following construction, renovation, and training delays due to COVID-19.