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Green and Healthy Homes: Going Beyond Lead-Safe

I wrote my first article about efforts to make homes lead safe shortly after I began writing for Buffalo Rising.  It’s a crucial issue in community development, and some outstanding folks from my hometown were among the earliest voices raising it to statewide prominence.  Shortly after moving to Buffalo, I was delighted to cover the kickoff of the local Wipe Out Lead campaign, which took ongoing efforts here to a new level.  And last summer, my one-year update covered the welcome addition of Western New York AmeriCorps (now The Service Collaborative of Western New York) to the team.

Fast forwarding a year, I couldn’t be more delighted to report that things are in the midst of a transition to an even more ambitious and comprehensive effort: the Green and Healthy Homes Initiative.  How did that come about?  Through a lot of hard work and excellent organization, to be sure.  But the big moment came late last year when Buffalo was named a Green and Healthy Homes Initiative (GHHI) pilot community by the White House, and received a grant of $2.1 Million through then-Attorney General Cuomo’s office — funding from a settlement of environmental violations.

According to the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo,

GHHI focuses on whole-home interventions to address all the health and safety issues present.  The model braids dollars from across government agencies (local, state, federal) with corporate and philanthropic dollars so that we can address ALL the problems that our target homes have — not just the lead paint.  In addition to lead, we’re able to focus on weatherization, energy efficiency, reducing asthma triggers and providing green jobs training so that we have a competent workforce to carry out all these tasks.  We got off to a great start with these efforts thanks to a $2.1 million grant from the NYS AG’s office in November, and with the GHHI designation have access to training, expertise and resources from outside our region to help us get the job done here.  It’s a really exciting, common-sense approach that streamlines everything while producing even greater results — and the Buffalo team is one of the GHHI communities leading the way because of our history of success with our lead poisoning prevention work.

A milestone in that work was celebrated last week at the Lt. Col. Matt Urban Human Services Center.  The first class proudly graduated (see entry image) from their pilot program in residential lead-hazard abatement, home repair and renovation, and environmental and green demolition contracting.  The program is targeted to unemployed city residents.  The Matt Urban Center (“Buffalo’s best kept secret“) always seems to have good stuff in the works, and it’s hard to imagine a program more relevant and needed than this pilot program to give “green jobs” training to unemployed workers.  These are in-demand skills.

SundraRyce.JPGSundra Ryce, President and CEO of SLR Contracting & Service Company, Inc. delivered the commencement speech.

The program, according to the Community Foundation, which has jointly funded the program with the Erie County Department of Health, “is one of the first in the nation that braids public and private funds to train welfare-to-work program participants to make them eligible for jobs in lead hazard control, environmental contracting and green demolition.”

“This program is a great example of what can be accomplished when public and private entities come together to invest in our community,” said Marlies Wesolowski, Executive Director of the Matt Urban Center. “The results speak for themselves — with this specialized training the program participants are in a stronger position to find meaningful employment, and through the course of their training they have directly improved the health and safety of homes in some of our most distressed neighborhoods.”

As part of the program, participants received on-site skills training by assisting in removing lead hazards from eight homes in zip codes 14215 and 14217.  Several of these homes had previously been cited by the Health Department for lead paint hazards, but the homeowners were unable to do the work themselves.

While there are numerous job training programs in the City of Buffalo, none have lead hazard control as the primary focus, according to the Foundation and the Matt Urban Center.  “Given the deteriorated condition of much of the city’s housing stock, current economic conditions and the prevalence of high unemployment, this initiative is critical to creating jobs and a sustainable workforce to address lead poisoning prevention through hazard reduction,” said Wesolowski.

GraduateTahwanaRoberson.JPGAt last week’s graduation ceremony, graduate Tahwana Roberson spoke about the experience and what it meant to her.  “I’m grateful for the opportunity to be in this program.  I feel like we made a difference in the community, and it gave me a real sense of accomplishment.”

The Community Foundation has promised more information to come about the Green and Healthy Homes initiative — so stay tuned.

Image credit: Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo (all)

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