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Advocacy group applauds lead paint settlement with Syracuse landlord

A woman wearing a yellow shirt and a scarf stands on the street.
Isaiah Vazquez
Oceanna Fair is a retired nurse who has had her grand daughter and her brother fall victim to lead poisoning in the south side of Syracuse, New York. Since her grand daughter was diagnosed with lead poisoning, she as fought as a parent-advocate to eliminate the issue by making her and fellow residents voices heard at the government level.

Advocacy groups are applauding the state attorney general’s latest settlement with a Syracuse landlord who repeatedly failed to address lead paint violations at his properties. Attorney General Letitia James announced Wednesday that Todd Hobbs will pay $55,000 to the families of at least 11 children who were poisoned by lead paint at his properties, and $120,000 to resolve hazards at 19 properties. Southside branch leader and Co-chair of Families For Lead Freedom Now Oceanna Fair says having the support and leverage of the state attorney general’s office has spurred landlords like Hobbs to act.

“His settlement is $175,000, which is a significant amount of money, much more than any of the fines that the county or city could levy against the landlord with the current ordinances," Fair said. "I think their fines are like $100, $200 there.”

Fair says the $5,000 for each of the impacted families is not a lot, but could help to cover additional doctors visits or specialists that may not be covered by insurance. She says another key component to this and other settlements gets to the heart of the problem by removing the paint that’s poisoning so many Syracuse children.

“The AG took our organization's recommendation to not just put the landlords out of business, but to make sure that the homes get repaired," Fair said. "Because when they put them out of business and the homes get sold, there's no saying that the new person will go ahead and make sure things get fixed. And then those houses to put back into circulation.” 

Fair says the settlements are sending a message to other landlords to be more proactive. She says some are calling city code enforcement ahead of time to see what work might need to be done so the attorney general doesn’t come after them. Beyond legal action, Fair says additional federal support to improve the overall condition of homes. 

“We know that lead is the tip of the iceberg for a lot of these families," Fair said. "Once we're in there, we'll find a plethora of other code violations. So to use some of that money to help get these landlords back on track, make sure that we're insulating homes. We're replacing windows. We're getting rid of the lead.”

Fair says using this “braid funding” approach to tackle multiple problems can improve the quality of life for struggling families. Meanwhile, Fair says continued education of both landlords and tenants is key, as well early lead testing and interventions for children. She says she also wants to get the city school district on board to ensure schools and teachers have the resources they need to help children who may have learning challenges caused by lead poisoning.

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