Federal housing officials have rejected Buffalo's latest attempt to salvage its failed program to remove lead paint, already considered one of the worst in the country by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
HUD officials also complained that Buffalo asked for more money to finish work that the federal government already paid to have done in an earlier $3.7 million grant.
The rejection of the grant for Buffalo earlier this month came before HUD announced a new round of $67 million in national grants to remove lead paint. In New York State, Albany will receive $3 million more and Onondaga County an additional $2.1 million.
Buffalo's poor earlier work caused HUD officials to forbid the city from spending $1.4 million in paint-removal funds the city already has in hand.
HUD froze the money after federal investigators inspected the first 11 of 153 houses the city declared to be lead-free. All 11 houses, despite thousands of dollars spent in removal and rehabilitation costs, were found to still have significantly high levels of lead.
"Based on the city's past performance under this grant," HUD's director of lead-control programs, David E. Jacobs, wrote Mayor Anthony M. Masiello on Oct. 1, "HUD has no assurance that the additional funds requested will be used to eliminate hazards."
In fact, Jacobs wrote, HUD has no way of knowing that federal money already spent has, "in fact, created lead-safe housing units."
Jacobs encouraged city efforts to take legal action if fraud is uncovered in any of the work that was supposed to have been done.
Buffalo, one of only 10 lead-removal programs put on a "high-risk" status by HUD, has had since August 2000 to come up with a plan to show how those houses the city certified as lead-safe actually are safe.
The city, in response, waited a year before submitting a three-page plan -- a letter from Masiello, a single-page "draft plan of corrections" and a flow chart.
HUD rejected the plan as inadequate and lacking in detail, and gave city officials an Oct. 19 deadline to revise it. The city already has asked for an extension.
"I'm still trying to put together a formal response to address their concerns and see, realistically, what we can do," said Joseph E. Ryan, executive director of the city's Office of Strategic Planning.
Ryan, whose department includes the now largely disbanded Lead Paint Hazard Control Office, said the city also must find a way to pay for what needs to be done.
"At the moment," Ryan said of finding money during the city's budget crisis, "I can't find a place where that exists."
He said the lead paint control office's director, Theresa A. Calvin, put together the HUD plan and is handling inquiries about the program. A second remaining employee works with Erie County health officials in a lead education program.
Masiello, in an Aug. 3 letter to Jacobs, asked HUD to pay for testing and remediation if necessary, while the city would pay for housing code compliance, any demolition needed and relocation to public housing while removal of lead paint was under way.
Masiello has acknowledged that Buffalo's program suffered because it also tried to function as a jobs program, training and certifying workers in lead paint removal.
With its stock of older wooden housing, New York State leads the nation in the number of houses at risk for lead poisoning. Three ZIP codes on Buffalo's East Side rank consistently among the state's top 10 neighborhoods for the highest percentage of lead paint cases.