Making Syracuse Lead Safe, One Window at a Time

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

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