CenterState CEO President Rob Simpson Emphasizes Need For More Housing Now

Posted on March 7, 2024

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Row of homes on a street.

CenterState CEO President Rob Simpson voiced support for zoning changes and strategic housing incentives to address the region's current housing challenge in a recent Syracuse.com Letter to the Editor:

 

For decades, this community faced countless challenges as it sought to regain its global economic relevance. Today, our prospects for future job growth and economic opportunity are suddenly real. We have earned this moment through our tenacity, perseverance and creativity; solving the problems that held us back. That same level of innovative thinking and partnership must now be applied to the greatest emerging challenge to our economic success, sustainability, and equity — the availability and affordability of quality housing.

Micron’s investment alone is expected to create an additional 76,264 residents between now and 2055, and that is the low-end of the projected range. Combined with the economic growth underway pre-Micron, additional investments unrelated to Micron, as well as its supply chain, welcoming 125,000 new residents over the coming decade is not an unrealistic estimate.

This level of population growth hasn’t been seen here in generations so it’s not surprising that our communities are questioning what this means for life in Central New York. Some level of apprehension is to be expected, but population growth, and the corresponding services and small businesses that comes along with it, is a fundamental byproduct of successful communities. This is our future, and we must prepare for it.

A report by Apartment Advisor paints a picture of an already urgent problem: More than 50% of our region’s renters are paying more than 30% of their household income for housing. Analysis by CenterState CEO’s housing task force shows rents have increased by a staggering 57% over the past seven years. Why? Because in the years immediately preceding that time, our region only increased its housing stock by 0.53%. In 2022, a mere 347 units of housing were permitted in Onondaga County. 2023 appears to have followed a similar pattern. There is a direct correlation between the number of units of housing created and the average price of rent.

Without massive and rapid investments in new residential units, higher housing costs will make it ever less affordable for the people who already live here, from our most housing vulnerable, to seniors and middle-income families — our firefighters, teachers, nurses and more. After years of working tirelessly to build a community where our children have access to meaningful career opportunities, we now run the risk of allowing them to be priced out of the market.

To avoid exacerbating this current crisis, we need upwards of 2,500 new units of housing each year, more than six times our current pace of development. Fortunately, the private sector is eager to accommodate this demand. Today, CenterState CEO is tracking more than $2.8 billion in proposed housing development projects totaling nearly 9,000 units. While this level of proposed investment is unprecedented, it’s also far from guaranteed.

Two challenges stand out in our race to preserve housing affordability for all residents in Central New York.

First, we cannot satisfy this level of demand for housing with single-family, large-lot housing alone. Investments in more concentrated, walkable communities are needed to limit sprawl and fully utilize our existing water and wastewater infrastructure to keep taxes under control. This investment in our community will create vibrant, amenity-rich and connected environments for young individuals, families and seniors. In Onondaga County, however, only 3% of all residential zoned land, and only 1% of such land outside of the city of Syracuse, is zoned for this kind of multi-family residential development as of right.

Developers who want to build in communities where updated zoning does not exist must go through layers of planning and zoning reviews and apply for special permitting (that is not guaranteed), all of which adds time and cost. We cannot meet this moment without reforms to land-use planning and a marked shift in our willingness to accommodate higher-density housing throughout Central New York. Modernizing zoning restrictions isn’t only good for developers and development, it gives property owners more authority to create value with their property, as well.

Second, given the actions of the Federal Reserve to slow inflation over the last 18 months, borrowing costs have been at record highs. Construction costs skyrocketed during the pandemic. Until these factors stabilize, more financial incentive is required to encourage housing starts in the near term. The city of Syracuse’s Housing Trust Fund and ReZone Syracuse program, Onondaga County’s new uniform tax exempt policy (UTEP) and the Governor’s Pro-Housing Communities designations are all desperately needed tools, and yet they remain insufficient to move the market. More tools and incentives are needed, not fewer, and it is incumbent on all elected officials, business leaders, and philanthropic partners to bring ideas to the table to accommodate development, at scale.

To be clear, no one wants to mortgage Central New York’s future, or the future needs of our region’s residents, for a short-term development bonanza. We can ensure it will not be the outcome if we work together to address these two persistent obstacles. For years, the challenge facing our community was how to reposition ourselves for economic success and to translate growth into greater opportunity for all residents. Today, that problem statement has shifted. As jobs and opportunities multiply, we need to turn our collective focus to ensuring our residents have affordable, quality places to live.

Our region’s residents are feeling the pain of runaway housing costs. Every city, town and village in Central New York will benefit from our evolution from stagnation to growth, therefore we all share the burden of delivering real solutions in the form of more, and more affordable, places to live.

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