Syracuse councilors, mayor reach deal on creating agency to tackle housing crisis, Jeremy Boyer

Original Article

December 14, 2023

Related project work

Syracuse Housing and Neighborhood Strategy

Syracuse, N.Y. — Mayor Ben Walsh’s plan to establish a public authority that will focus on the city’s housing market problems appears to be moving forward.

Syracuse common councilors and Walsh administration officials have agreed to some changes to the mayor’s original request to establish the Syracuse Housing Trust Fund Corp. The authority would raise funds and issue grants and loans for housing development projects in the city.

At a committee meeting last month, some councilors expressed concerns that the trust might compete for federal and state dollars with existing housing development organizations working in the city, notably the Greater Syracuse Land Bank and the nonprofit affordable housing developer Home HeadQuarters. Councilors also were leery of the housing trust owning and managing property, which the original proposal would have allowed it to do.

Councilor Pat Hogan and Council President Helen Hudson worked with leaders in the city’s Neighborhood and Business Development to make changes in the proposal that addressed legislators’ concerns. Some of the changes were made just minutes before the council’s study session held Wednesday to discuss agenda items for next week’s regular meeting.

One change adds two members to the board of directors that will oversee the new agency. The original makeup included two appointments from the council, two from the mayor and one that would be selected jointly. Now the board will have seven members, with one of the additional appointments representing the land bank and the other coming from Home HeadQuarters.

“This would help ensure there’s always a seat at the table (for those organizations),” said Michelle Sczpanski, the deputy commissioner of neighborhood development, at the study session.

The new proposal also includes language that says the housing trust cannot buy and own real estate without the common council’s approval. Hogan, who chairs the council’s economic development committee, said that provision ensures the land trust doesn’t get involved in property management but rather acts like a housing project bank, which he believes needs to be its main focus.

The land bank, which is also a public authority, has the ability to buy and own land for future development, and can do so without encumbrances attached to it such as back taxes and other debts and liens.

“We’ve already got the land bank, which does that work very well,” said Hogan, who also chairs the land bank’s board of directors.

If the council authorizes the creation of the housing trust at its meeting Monday, the city would file incorporation paperwork with the state Department of State so the trust’s board could be put together in January.

The housing trust’s initial funding would come from a $5 million state grant that was included in the current year’s state budget. City officials are working to line up additional seed money for the agency, as well as recurring revenue sources to fund operations.

City officials are eager to have the trust board in place so it can begin to tackle the recommendations that are expected to come from a housing crisis task force that’s been working with a private consultant on a comprehensive housing market study and strategic plan.

The study, which was released in March, identified two key and somewhat competing problems in Syracuse’s housing markets. One is that most of the city’s population can’t afford market-rate housing, and another is that the city’s existing housing stock is in bad need of expensive rehabilitation or replacement.

The housing task force recommendations are expected in April.