County Executive Ryan McMahon (left) and legislator Charles Garland (right) announce a deal July 29, 2022 for Garland’s district to have 10 houses built on vacant lots. In exchange, Garland will vote for the proposal to build an $85 million aquarium in the Inner harbor.

Onondaga County 16th District Legislator Charles Garland announced he would vote in favor of County Executive Ryan McMahon’s proposed $85 million aquarium.

In a joint press conference, McMahon proposed $4.5 million in federal stimulus funds and grants be used to fund 10 new homes on vacant lots in Syracuse’s South Side, where Garland’s district is situated.

“This is politics 101,” Garland said. “It’s about the leverage we have and using it.”

“I would put it more like this,” McMahon said. “Charles had a micro-level agenda. For him to participate in the macro-level agenda, he had to get his goals accomplished.”

The county legislator acknowledged his yes vote hinged on McMahon putting up the money for development in the neighborhoods he represents.

Garland and McMahon pitched it as a bipartisan compromise.

McMahon said the other Democratic legislators who have not come around on the aquarium are playing “party politics.”

The new housing is part of a package: the county proposed using $3.7 million toward lead abatement, $10 million to fund market-rate and low-income housing initiatives countywide and the development announced at Friday’s press conference.

Onondaga County legislators still have to approve McMahon’s and Garland’s proposal for it to come to fruition.

McMahon said he planned to direct some funding to housing in the South Side even before Garland approached him but that he needs people willing to work with him to do that.

“A lot of legislators wanted to see more money in lead and we did it. A lot of them wanted to see money in housing and we did it,” McMahon said.

The new housing in Garland’s district is planned for the 300 block of West Kennedy Street and the 100 and 200 blocks of Furman Street.

It is set to complement new homes built by Home Headquarters in the 100 and 200 blocks of West Kennedy Street.

Some of the homes will be set aside as affordable housing, for first-time homebuyers. Other homes will be “scattered-site,” (in other words, housing that is not in high rises or all in one building) and provide supportive services for people who would otherwise face housing insecurity.

Garland said he hopes some of the home will be made available to families currently living in public housing, who could be displaced by the Blueprint 15 redevelopment project.

The county will put out requests for proposals for both the developers for the homes and for the services.

Each house is projected to cost $450,000 to build. Additional homes could be built if building materials costs drop, McMahon said.

Garland said the deal was a step toward fighting poverty.

“Home ownership we know is very important,” Garland said. “It stabilizes areas. It’s generational wealth.”

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Chris Libonati covers government, accountability and equity. Have a tip? Contact Chris at 585-290-0718 or