Syracuse officials want to take inventory of the quality of housing in the city and the needs of renters to plan future investments in housing.
The city commissioned a study that presents residents’ income levels as it relates to affordable housing. The study categorizes homes and empty structures on a scale from one to five based on quality and condition.
These findings, along with analysis of the current housing market in the U.S., will inform the city’s housing plans for the near future, including strategies on how to invest in housing in the city at large, and on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis.
A presentation of the study’s findings can be viewed online. The city is hosting a series of information sessions seeking input from community members at the end of May. Maine-based czbLLC, the company conducting the study, expects to have a full report on its findings by June.
The need to understand Syracuse’s changing housing market
At the first session last week, Cimone Jordan, director of neighborhood and planning, said the study was born out of the need to understand the changes in population and the city’s housing market in the last 20 years.
“Our population has been on a steady decline for a while and yet we saw a slight bump this year, Jordan said. “We also see a lot of investments going on throughout the city and there’s a large conversation about Micron coming in.”
So far, the report shows the city is dealing with major gaps between affordable housing needs and availability.
For example, across the city, 32% of all households (around 18,000) earn less than $35,000 per year. Those households are considered to be rent-burdened, meaning 30% or more of their income goes to rent.
The situation worsens for renters in Syracuse making increasingly more modest incomes: more than 16,000 households have incomes of less than $20,000 per year. About 14,080 of them are rent-burdened.
Potential responses to Syracuse’s housing problem
One of the policy suggestions in the study is to provide a housing voucher of $400 per month in financial assistance that could go to 15,000 tenants experiencing this level of housing instability. Such a project would cost the city $75 million per year.
Housing subsidies for renters and builders are almost critical to housing affordability.
The study estimates only about 18% of residents can afford to live in a home that was renovated without government subsidies. Rent for those homes could be around $1,800. For a new home developed without subsidies, the study projects rent could be around $2,400.
“There is a real disconnect between how difficult it is to provide housing and how expensive it is to build it,” said Karen Schroeder, the chief communications officer for Home HeadQuarters, which helps build affordable housing in Syracuse.
“Those builds are very on par, in terms of cost, with the homes that are being built in the suburbs,” she said. “Costs are at their highest and contractor availability is at its lowest. It is a very challenging time. A study like this will make people realize there is a lot to this. It’ll show the needs and what people can afford.”
The city has been looking at other ways to boost housing options more efficiently, including “infill housing,” which the city’s planning director described as strategically building single and multi-family homes on vacant lots.
“If you have a middle-income neighborhood, there are one or two houses on the block that are either vacant lots or structures,” Jordan said. “Those are bringing the property values, the quality of life, and the neighborhood down. Our goal for infill would be to either demolish the property or do a rehab there so that we can bring up the entire block.”
With infill, Jordan noted, the city wants to look at what needs are to be addressed based on the area.
“If people need access to a grocery store, or office space, or small businesses and amenities, we’re seeing how we can use strategic site acquisition and assembly to make that possible,” she said.
Citywide inspections reveal block-by-block needs
Analysts inspected the outside of 35,000 residential properties in the city last fall, rating each structure and its conditions on a scale of one through five.
Properties rated at a four or a five — approximately more than 11,000, the study says — showed multiple signs of disinvestment and physical distress. The majority of these properties are located in the North Side and South Side.
Around 9,450, or 27% of the properties surveyed, received a rating of one or two, which meant they showed signs of active ownership and upkeep. A bulk of these structures are in Meadowbrook, Strathmore, and Winkworth.
A key finding highlighted by the city was the proximity between blocks that have healthy property conditions and blocks with significant levels of disinvestment.
If the city wants to address its issues with housing disrepair, then it needs to be aggressive with enforcement of property codes, said Palmer Harvey, a co-founder of the Syracuse Tenants Union.
“With landlords, they have to have the heart for it,” she said. “They have to want to punish bad actors in our city and that makes for a tough act to healthily balance.”
Harvey said she appreciated that the city is involving members of the community and sharing the study’s findings as it comes together.
“It’s going to be very eye-opening and shocking to see the numbers and how much it’s going to cost to address things,” she said. “I think people should not be deterred by that. This is the result of decades of neglect and it is going to take a lot to address housing conditions in this city.”
The study also looked at demand for housing, which was dubbed as the price that households with options are willing to pay for housing in a given area. Demand is low, the study shows, as the median value of a home is Syracuse about 41% of the national median. The average value of a home in Syracuse was calculated at about $150,000.
Demand is way below average in areas of the South Side and North Side, as well as in parts of the West Side, while it is shown as well above average in Strathmore, Meadowbrook, and Winkworth.
Where demand is highest, properties are taken care of the best and vacancy rates are lowest, according to the study. The opposite is shown for areas with below average demand.
Residents can access a survey to provide feedback on the housing study’s findings so far here.
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