June 16, 2014

Seriously: A Parade of Homes in Syracuse

I've written in the past on how wonderful it would be if we were to have a Parade of Homes in Syracuse, in one of our city neighborhoods.

The first time was when the 2012 Parade was getting underway.  That year, the event was held in a new waterfront development in the Town of Clay. In 2013, the Parade was at a new development on the Jamesville Reservoir, in the town of Lafayette.

This year's Parade, sponsored as always by the great folks at the Homebuilders and Remodelers Association of CNY (HBRCNY) is going on now, and again it's not in Syracuse -- again it's in the Town of Clay.  Other sites for the Parade over the past several years include Brewerton (2004), Manlius (2005 and 2010), Cicero (2006), Onondaga (2007, 2009), Liverpool (2011), and Clay again (2008).

In 2015, the Parade is returning to another favorite location, Manlius, when they'll put up new homes right near Mallard's Landing.

Some perspective:
  • Mallard's Landing is a community where, in one section, the lots alone start at $168,000, according to their website; most of the available lots are listed at well over $200K. And, as as they used to say on Seinfeld, "not that there's anything wrong with that".  I don't begrudge people living in communities like that if they can afford to, and if it's what they want. 
    • The average price of the 1400 homes sold in Onondaga County this year (through June 10th) is $169,100, or basically just pennies more than the starting price of one of those Mallard's Landing building lots. 
  • The House of the Week in today's Post-Standard is one of this year's twelve Parade homes, five of which have already been sold. It has four bedrooms, three full bathrooms, a home theater, and a screened porch, complete with ceiling fan.. (I don't feel so bad now about putting ceiling fans on my new screened porch last year). At over 3100 square feet, it's priced at $449,950. With 20% down, that's a mortgage payment of over $1700 a month; the estimated taxes are over $15,000.  There's also nothing at all wrong with this as a housing choice.
    • In contrast, the average sale price of a home in the city of Syracuse this year is $94,300, or about one-fifth the price of the house of the week.  
So. Here I am, armed with the information above, and I wonder, do I just keep writing posts on why I think it's a good idea to have a Parade of Homes in Syracuse and expect everyone else to try and come up with where and how?  Nope - not this year. This year, I'll commit:
Let's have Parade of Homes in the city -- Skunk City, that is. 
Skunk City is a neighborhood on the West side. Picture the area stretching from Geddes Street on the east, Grand Ave to the north, Velasko Road to the west, and Bellevue Avenue as the southern border. Delaware School and Fowler. The Mundy Branch library. A few minutes away from a Wegmans and a PriceChopper, and from Upper Onondaga Park. Very close to downtown. And in need of help.

As of its most current listing, if my count is right, the Greater Syracuse Land Bank has 50 properties in inventory located in Skunk City: an apartment building, five two-family homes, 12 single-family homes, and 32 vacant parcels.

Folks, this is simply not how you sustain a city.  You sustain a city by having homes on the tax rolls, by having thriving neighborhoods with all the nearby conveniences that people who live out where we have the Parades of Homes have to drive to, often through significant traffic nightmares. I mean, how interested are you in the Lyndon Corners, Route 92 or Route 31 treks to the store?

You sustain cities by having committed people staking a claim to their home, their block, their corner, their neighborhood.  People who keep an eye on each other, who help each other out. Who plant community gardens, and daffodils, and put up birdhouses.

Tax-free economic development zones for businesses, and SAIL-OPTs (my new acronym:  Service   Agreements ILieu OProperty Taxes) with our over-abundance of not-for-profit parcels, and nice signage and Connective Corridors, help some, but they won't sustain a city.

No, what's happening in the once-proud Skunk City is not sustainable, nor are the things that are happening in our other once-proud city neighborhoods. So again, I ask you to imagine a Parade of Homes, right in Skunk City:
  • What if the Onondaga Historical Association (OHA), and the Preservation Association of Central New York (PACNY), could provide context for what Skunk City used to look like, and help architects and builders and interior designers come up with a plan for the Parade homes so they'd be scaled and in character for a city neighborhood? That could include both single family homes and two family homes, for multi-generational living or so that homeowners can get some help towards their payments. 
    • Wasn't our city architecture mapped back during the Driscoll administration? Does anyone know what happened with that project, and if they got around to Skunk City?
  • And what if our local colleges, who have just proved they can collaborate on a grand scale, also got involved in helping to plan additional development in the rest of the neighborhood, small businesses and traffic patterns and greenspace design and public art and all of that? 
  • And if the local governmental agencies could make sure that any zoning, code enforcement concerns, environmental issues and the like were all smoothed out as the project was in the development stage so there were no surprises or delays once things got started, wouldn't that be time well spent? 
And then what if  the Homebuilders Association, seeing all of the synergy and energy around the project, joined the collaboration and loaned their considerable talents and recruited their members and regular partners to tackle at least some of the vacant properties in the Land Bank's inventory, and rebuilt the neighborhood?

Of course, there's more to this than just the nuts and bolts. There's people:
  • How about the Tomorrow's Neighborhoods Today (TNT) group goes out into Skunk City to make the pitch to current neighbors, to make sure that they are informed, kept abreast of what's going on, and to provide reassurances that it will still be Skunk City when it's done? 
  • And what about grants to the current neighborhood residents, so they could take care of some their 'honey-do' lists on their own houses? 
  • And let's get the Syracuse City School District folks out in the field too. Delaware and Fowler have issues, as we know, but let's not run from them. Let's make sure the 'neighborhood schools' are truly of the neighborhood, with a whole new constituency paying attention, being involved, keeping tabs on things, offering ideas. 
  • Local banks and credit unions, some of whom offer education and assistance for potential home buyers, could be brought into the fold, along with local Realtors, and collectively come up with great packages for buyers to get them into the homes. 

What else can we do?
  • Well, let's provide incentives for city employees (teachers, police, fire, DPW, etc.) to live here, whether it's a break on the price of the home, or a short-term break on their property taxes, or a even a bonus each year that they truly live in the city. There are already some programs like this but let's make sure we've got all bases covered and that folks are aware the programs are out there. 
  • Maybe all of the families that move into the new Skunk City get memberships to the Rosamond Gifford Zoo, or other community incentives, to welcome them to the neighborhood?
  • Let's think seriously about providing incentives to families who enroll their kids in city schools, rather then provide incentives to people who take their kids out of city schools. 
  • Let's make sure we give breaks for the builders on materials and sales tax and other upfront charges, just like we do on commercial developments; if this can't happen for residential construction under existing city ordinances, fix the rules so it can. We need to start looking at residential growth, at neighborhood reclamation, as an economic development engine for the city. 
  • And let's think seriously about what else we can do to make reclaiming and renewing a neighborhood as interesting a proposition as is living downtown, where we have an occupancy rate above 99%.

Maybe people are already working on something like this; maybe they're not.  But can we afford to sit around waiting for something to happen, waiting to see if we can get a Parade of Homes in Syracuse in 2016, the next open date on the HBRCNY calendar?  Can Skunk City wait that long?

I vote we try to do something now. What about you?