Preservation v. Demolition

Sean Kirst had an interesting post today about the need to preserve Syracuse’s historic buildings from the wrecking ball.

It’s interesting because just yesterday I went with the members of the community organization for whom I organize to a hearing of the city of Syracuse Landmark Preservation Board.

Our group went to the Board to protest how the city deals with vacant historic houses in our neighborhood and to request the demolition of an abandoned vacant house at 133 South Ave. This house has been vacant since 1992 and is a magnet for trash, drug dealers and prostitutes. (Check out a local TV station’s video!)

Our group’s take on preservation is a tad different from the typical preservation folks. We love the character of the older buildings in our neighborhoods too. But our neighborhoods harbor 45% of the city’s 1,200 vacant properties–even though we only comprise 15% of the city’s households. There is not even close to the amount of government money necessary to deal with the vacancies, so despite a very small number of rehabs by non-profits and about 200 demolitions a year, the total number of vacant houses hasn’t budged from the 1,100-1,200 range in over a decade.

So what do we do? The preservation types seem to think that we should be thankful for all the tony buildings and not complain about the fact that many vacant and abandoned buildings bring illegal trash dumping, make it hard for surrounding homeowners to purchase homeowners insurance or sell their homes for full value and harbor prostitutes and drug dealers.

The cost for non-profits to rehab a house is over $150,000 if they use money from the state or feds (red tape, ya know). Most have to since private credit for housing has dried up. Historic homes cost two to three times more to rehab than that because of regulations on designs and materials.

I agree that we need to find a solution to the current problem, but that solution needs to take into account the suffering that the low income residents of the city’s south and near west side face from these vacant and abandoned properties, historic or not. Our passion should be for people first, buildings second.

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