Syracuse Mayoral Candidates On Vacant Houses.

First in a series. The community organization I work for organized an issues forum with the three candidates running for Mayor of Syracuse. These highly subjective and biased ruminations on the candidate’s remarks (I have endorsed and volunteer for Stephanie Miner) are solely those of your humble blogger and may not be reproduced without the expressed, written consent of Major League Baseball. Or if you buy me a nice present. Or if you ask nicely.

The neighborhoods on the south, southwest and near-west sides of Syracuse make up only 15% of the city’s households, but our neighborhoods harbor 45% of the city’s vacant houses. There are over 1,500 vacant houses in the city, an increase of nearly 40% from the totals reported just four years ago. The city’s responses to the problem are clearly not working. Vacant houses are places to buy, sell and hide illegal drugs and weapons. Vacant properties are illegal dumps for trash and junk cars. Vacant houses draw youths who loiter, fight and make noise into the early morning hours. The vacant houses are targets for arson, depress home values and make it hard for neighbors to get homeowners insurance.

As Mayor, what will you do to reduce the number of vacant houses in our neighborhoods, adequately maintain the vacant houses remaining and rehabilitate more vacant houses for new owner/occupants?

Stephanie Miner was incredibly impressive on the housing issues presented to her, not surprising since during her time on the Common Council she has worked closely with our organization and others to improve the flawed Community Development Block Grant program that funds most housing work in low income city neighborhoods. Stephanie emphasized that we can’t demolish our way out of the problem and stated that the city needs to prioritize rehabilitation of properties over new construction. Stephanie also made an eloquent appeal to value the beautifully constructed older homes in our neighborhoods, (“that which makes us unique”) even if it may cost a little more in the long run. To this end, she also feels that the city should invest in deconstruction of houses, saving what we can of our houses rather than carting everything to the dump.

Otis Jennings bombed on this issue–he praised Roy Bernardi’s tax auction of delinquent houses as a means to deal with vacant houses. The auction was something I dedicated 6 years of my organizing life to kill, a program that decimated our neighborhoods. The auction disproportionately hurt the low income folks that could not afford to pay off their back taxes or negotiate a payment plan with the city–resulting in a net transfer from owner/occupants in low income neighborhoods to investor/speculators. Otis also said he would implement the recommendations of a 2005 ESF study on vacant houses. I’ve never heard of the study and he didn’t explain even one provision it contains.

Steve Kimatian name checked the Flint land bank as a way to deal with vacant houses, but he had no seeming recognition that land banks require state approval to create and Governor Patterson has already vetoed a land bank bill once. Steve also seemed to be gung ho for demolition, especially of dangerous homes and those contributing to crime. Steve promised to immediately demolish those houses that were in dangerous condition or a focal point of criminal activity. He also promised to meet with neighbors and listen to their ideas for saving some houses from demolition. However, Steve’s main points on vacant housing seem to involve a back hoe and a wrecking ball.

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