On Tuesday, June 4, Lead-Free Mohawk Valley Coalition partners signed a compact with the Green & Health Homes Initiative (GHHI), establishing Utica-Oneida County as one of 26 designated GHHI sites in the nation.
Oneida County, the City of Utica and other nonprofit partners will work in partnership to form “GHHI Utica-Oneida County,” which will perform comprehensive and coordinated home interventions that address health, safety, lead hazard, energy efficiency and weatherization concerns in eligible housing.
Integrated home interventions will provide the area’s most vulnerable families with access to a full complement of resources to address health and safety hazards in their homes, ensuring the health and well-being of the entire family.
“Lead-Free MV’s collaboration with GHHI will advance solutions to some of the major problems that families in our communities face every day,” said Alicia Dicks, president/CEO of The Community Foundation of Herkimer and Oneida Counties (convener of the Lead-Free MV Coalition). “Through this partnership, we are able to leverage the years of experience and knowledge on creating and maintaining healthy homes that GHHI has to offer. The approach is dynamic and community-driven, it’s just what we need to make real change happen.”
The creation of GHHI Utica-Oneida County comes after six months of intensive collaboration among GHHI and Lead-Free MV partners who are already conducting work related to green and healthy homes interventions. Through technical assistance, GHHI works to establish a comprehensive home intervention model. The approach is focused on a whole-house strategy that aligns programs, braids funding and coordinates agency services for maximum results. On average, performing an integrated home intervention costs 20-25% less than separate interventions by multiple contractors and programs.
“The GHHI platform is helping local communities across the country deliver integrated and coordinated health and housing services to low-income families that more efficiently and cost-effectively implements local and federally funded programs,” said Ruth Ann Norton, president and CEO of GHHI. “Using the GHHI model, children are healthier, families have safer and more energy efficient homes—and lower utility bills—and medical costs decline due to fewer housing-related health issues.”
In commenting on the compact signing, “Through coordinated partnerships, government innovation and systems change, this collaborative can have a tremendous impact in the City of Utica and in Oneida County,” Norton said.
Entities that took part in the compact signing ceremony include the City of Utica, Cornell Cooperative Extension, HomeOwnershipCenter, Lead-Free MV, Mohawk Valley Community Action Agency, Oneida County, Oneida County Health Department, The Community Foundation and GHHI.
Efforts to combat childhood lead poisoning and unhealthy housing in Oneida County have been ongoing and will continue to be an emphasis for the GHHI Utica-Oneida County collaborative. The County has implemented primary and secondary prevention programs to address cases of childhood lead exposure. The City, through the Mayor’s regular quality-of-life sweeps, has worked to call attention to and address housing and other issues in challenged Utica neighborhoods.
“Eliminating lead poisoning has been a priority for my administration, and Oneida County has seen a significant decrease in lead poisoning rates over the last decade,” said Oneida County Executive Anthony J. Picente Jr. “Still, more work remains, and the GHHI Compact will expand efforts to ensure the availability of safe, healthy housing.”
“The City of Utica strongly supports the adoption of the GHHI model, and I’m confident that the County, City, Community Foundation and our other coalition partners will make the most of this opportunity,” said City of Utica Mayor Robert M. Palmieri. “This effort is a necessary and natural part of the City’s continuing revitalization.”
In 2016, The Community Foundation partnered with the County, City and more than two dozen organizations to launch the Lead-Free MV Coalition with an initial $1 million investment. In 2018, The Community Foundation reaffirmed its commitment with an additional $5 million investment over the next decade to focus on the reduction of lead hazards, as well as expanding testing and community awareness of the problem. In 2018, the City of Utica was awarded a $3.5 million-dollar grant from the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development to help remove or address lead and home health hazards in 180 housing units for low income families.
“One needs only to consider the long-term effects of lead toxicity in a child and how that negatively changes the trajectory of their life,” said Dr. Mark Warfel, chair of the Lead-Free MV Coalition. “It’s important to keep in mind that lead poisoning is preventable and if it occurs, can be detected by appropriate screening. Screening enables treatment and identification of the source(s) of lead poisoning, which makes remediation possible, aided by the resources now available through the GHHI Utica-Oneida County initiatives.”
“The Oneida County Health Department has performed thousands of area home inspections, identifying sources of possible lead contamination to reduce childhood lead poisoning rates,” said Oneida County Director of Health Phyllis D. Ellis, BSN, MS, FACHE. “We are so pleased to build on our efforts by working with these partner agencies. The best way to continue to reduce lead poisoning is through the hard work and dedication of our entire community. “
“The HomeOwnershipCenter has addressed the housing rehabilitation and homeownership needs of our communities for 40 years,” said Danielle Smith, CEO of HomeOwnershipCenter. “We are excited to be working more collaboratively with other agencies and to see the results that this partnership will achieve.”
“Our agency has worked with families for over 50 years to help them obtain and maintain safe, healthy homes,” said Evon Ervin, deputy director of Mohawk Valley Community Action Agency. “The impact that GHHI Utica-Oneida County will have on our community is inspiring. The opportunity to bring so many partners together in a unified effort to improve housing is not only unique but can be life-changing for families.”
“Lead poisoning is a disease that impacts far too many children in our community. Fortunately, it is also completely preventable,” said Mary Beth McEwen, executive director of Cornell Cooperative Extension. “Our Childhood Lead Primary Prevention Program helps educate families on how to identify and mitigate hazards in the environment before children are exposed and face a lifetime of challenges. GHHI Utica-Oneida County solidifies the collaboration among all community partners, and further demonstrates that we are all committed to ending lead poisoning in Oneida County once and for all.”