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Task force launches campaigns to address housing concerns

Observer - Dispatch

Local elected officials and nonprofits came together Tuesday to announce two separate campaigns aimed at improving regional housing options.

Utica, Oneida County and several nonprofits had a joint news conference Tuesday afternoon to announce the creation of a new Housing Quality Task Force. The task force will be charged with identifying, monitoring and addressing safety concerns in large rental properties that provide substandard housing, said Utica Mayor Robert Palmieri.

Earlier in the day, the Community Foundation of Herkimer & Oneida Counties hosted a news conference with local officials and nonprofit leaders to sign the Green & Health Homes Initiative compact.

The compact establishes Utica and Oneida County as one of 26 designated GHHI sites in the country. The partnership will allow compact partners to perform home interventions that will address health, safety, lead hazard, energy efficiency and weatherization concerns in eligible housing.

“Lead-Free Mohawk Valley’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 and CEO of the Community Foundation. “Through this partnership, we are able to leverage the years of experience and knowledge on creating and maintaining health homes that GHHI has to offer. The approach is dynamic and community-driven, it’s just what we need to make real change happen.”

GHHI Utica-Oneida County includes Lead-Free Mohawk Valley partners who already are working to make sure homes are lead-free and children are safe from the hazards that can result from homes with lead in them.

The city and county already work on combating childhood lead poisoning and unhealthy housing in the region, but the partnership will allow that work to continue.

Oneida County has implemented primary and secondary prevention programs to address cases of childhood lead exposure.

Through Palmieri’s quality-of-life sweeps, Utica has been working to identify and address housing and other issues within the city’s neighborhoods, Dicks said.

Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente said eliminating lead poisoning has been a priority for his administration.

“Oneida County has seen a significant decrease in lead poisoning rates over the last decade,” he said. “Still more work remains and the GHHI compact will expand efforts to ensure the availability of safe, healthy housing.”

The compact complements the city and county’s new task force, which features members from the city, county, United Way of the Greater Utica Area, and CNY Services.

Recent concerns over the conditions at the Olbiston Apartments and Michael Walsh Apartments in Utica prompted the city to reach out to the county and nonprofits to create the task force. The task force announced its formation and then promptly held its first meeting Tuesday afternoon.

It will meet regularly to make sure efforts are coordinated and resources are used efficiently to make sure every resident has a safe place to live, Palmieri said.

“Every one of these agencies is involved deeply in making sure people are living in a quality environment,” Palmieri said. “Here, we’re coming together so we can make a stronger, more proactive, more permanent effort. The story of this task force is cooperation, but it’s also about the dedication and the values of these agencies and these people that want to help the residents of Utica.”

Contact reporter Samantha Madison at 315-792-5015 or follow her on Twitter (@OD_Madison).

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