Syracuse called slow, costly and poor performer when bypassed for $3M lead removal grant

SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- Syracuse's application for a $2.9 million federal grant to restart its program to remove lead paint from city homes was rejected because of the program's poor performance, high costs and slow lab testing, according to a city official.

Those were some of the reasons cited by U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development officials in an Oct. 12 telephone debriefing with Syracuse officials, according to Paul Driscoll, the city's commissioner of neighborhood and business development. The debriefing came after HUD turned down the city's application in August without offering any explanation.

The money would have helped remove lead from about 250 homes per year in some of the city's poorest neighborhoods.

Syracuse's application scored 80 out of 100 points. HUD officials said any application that scored less than 75 was unfundable, but did not reveal what score was necessary for approval, according to Driscoll.

"They kept saying we just missed it," Driscoll said.

Syracuse was one of 53 U.S. communities that asked for $110 million in lead funding. HUD approved $46 million in funding for 23 applicants. "It's a very competitive process," said HUD spokesman Charles McNally, who refused to say why Syracuse's application fell short.

Syracuse was forced to shut down its 20-year-old lead abatement program last year after HUD rejected a previous application for $3.5 million. HUD temporarily disqualified Syracuse from seeking new grants in 2013 after citing problems with the city's lead testing procedures and its quarterly oversight reports.

Syracuse had the nation's highest percentage of children with lead poisoning between 2009 and 2015, according to a recent study published in the Journal of Pediatrics that has been disputed by Onondaga County health officials.

In its application, Syracuse told HUD it would contract with Onondaga County, which also has a lead paint abatement program, to do the lead testing and line up contractors to do the work, while the city would handle the finances. HUD approved a $3.4 million grant for the county's lead program in July. Since the city's program was shut down, the county program has been spending about half its grant money in the city.

Driscoll said HUD officials cited these reasons for rejecting Syracuse's application:

  • Lab testing too slow: After a home lead inspection, the city told HUD it would get lab results back in three days. Other cities do it in one to two days.
  • Costs too high: The application showed Syracuse's cost to fix lead problems is $11,000 per unit. HUD said that is higher than average, but did not disclose the national average cost.
  • City's track record: HUD deducted four points off Syracuse's score because of its lead program's past performance. HUD officials did not say what specifically about the program's history led to the deduction. That was the only defect for which HUD officials disclosed the number of points deducted.
  • Grant management: In its application, the city said one county employee would manage lead grants for both the city and county. HUD officials said one person would not have time to manage both.
HUD officials said the agency will invite communities to apply for another round of lead paint funding within the next few months. Applicants that were successful in the last round will have to sit out the next round, according to Driscoll.

He said Syracuse will apply again.


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