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HUD Secretary Ben Carson Visits Syracuse to Learn About the Ongoing Lead Paint Crisis

Scott Willis
WAER-FM 88.3

Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson made a stop in Syracuse Friday to get a sense of the city’s stubborn and persistent lead paint problem.  Congressmember John Katko invited Carson and officials from several housing organizations for a roundtable discussion. 

Carson was struck by the level of cooperation, which he says will work to their advantage when it comes to securing grant funding.

"We look for best practices wherever we see them.  We also look for places where we can probably get some rapid results.  This is one of those places because of the cooperative spirit that exists here and the very well-defined problem."

A 2016 study found Syracuse had the nation’s highest percentage of children with lead poisoning between 2009 and 2015.  An estimated 11 percent of children tested have elevated blood lead levels.  After the city lost its HUD lead remediation grant a few years ago, Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon says they partnered with Syracuse to secure a $4.1 million award last year, which runs out this summer. 

Credit Scott Willis / WAER-FM 88.3
WAER-FM 88.3
Mayor Ben Walsh, Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon, and the "boots on the ground" from several housing agencies were invited to the roundtable discussion at Home Headquarters.

"That successful application with the county's program, and then with investments from Home Headquarters and the [Central New York] Community Foundation is focused on this issue like no other time.  That's why it's imporant we build on this momentum in this next round."

McMahon told Carson he'd like the city and county to be considered for a available $9 million allocation.  City officials implored Carson to loosen up some of the regulations to deploy resources to larger swaths of the city where they know children are being poisoned by lead, versus house by house.  Carson says until recently, HUD was without a CFO for over eight years, so the purse strings had to stay pretty tight.  Now, he says there's more oversight, along with updated technology.  

"We've now established an interactive dashboard to allow us to do real time monitoring.  That will allow us to provide significantly more freedom and flexibility, and I think that will make a huge difference."

Carson says in addition to lead remediation, educating residents is key.  He says ongoing monitoring is essential to tackling the enormous, but solvable lead paint problem.  At the roundtable, Congressmember Katko announced bipartisan legislation introduced this week called the Preventing Lead Poisoning Act.  It would requre that children enrolled in both Medicaid and CHIP are tested for lead poisoning at the proper ages to increase the likelihood of preventing long-term effects of lead exposure.  

Scott Willis covers politics, local government, transportation, and arts and culture for WAER. He came to Syracuse from Detroit in 2001, where he began his career in radio as an intern and freelance reporter. Scott is honored and privileged to bring the day’s news and in-depth feature reporting to WAER’s dedicated and generous listeners. You can find him on twitter @swillisWAER and email him at