S2,E8 - Housing Taskforce

Posted on April 24, 2024

Talk CNY - Season 2, Episode 8 - Housing Taskforce

This is Talk CNY, presented by NBT Bank, a semi-monthly podcast by CenterState CEO, Central New York's Premier Leadership and Economic Development organization. Join us as we meet the people and explore the projects driving the regional economy forward.

This is Talk CNY, presented by NBT Bank, I'm Katie Zilcosky, director of communications at CenterState CEO and your host for Talk CNY. Communities don't often have the advantage of being able to plan for exponential growth, but Central New York has the unique opportunity to do just that because we have some time to plan, we have the chance to address the current and upcoming demand for housing in a way that isn't unsustainable or creating inequitable conditions that so often results from significant economic investment. To do this, CenterState CEO convened a housing task force to examine the current interrelated challenges and make policy recommendations that fit within existing laws and economic conditions while maintaining equity as a core tenant. Joining us today to talk about the work of the housing task force and the solutions needed to create a vibrant and equitable future in Central New York are the co-chairs of the housing task force, Andy Breuer, president of Huber Breuer Construction Company, and Joanne Gagliano, president of EDR. Andy. Joanne, thank you both for being here today.

You're welcome. So as the co-chairs of the housing task force, you guys have spent months studying the current Central New York housing landscape coming up with policy recommendations. It's a lot of work on top of your already busy day jobs. So why was it personally important to both of you to co-chair this task force and make this a priority?

For me, it's the opportunity we've been waiting for, right? This growth in our housing is really important even before Micron and regionally, this is a serious first step in seeing us evolve into the city we've wanted to be.

Certainly, CenterState CEO leadership has done a good job of articulating this moment that we're in, right? We've kind of crested the hill maybe with trying to create this ecosystem of development and with that comes the obvious housing need and we're probably already in a housing crisis to begin with, so double the need. So the timing was very appropriate for this focus.

Now you're both experts in your field, but I'm sure being with this diverse group of stakeholders brought new perspectives and information kind to the forefront for you when it comes to the housing landscape. Was there a lesson or any information or something someone said that stood out to you during this process that either shifted something the way that you've been thinking about something or doing things and informs the way that you see the housing landscape now?

I think to me it was so complex all of the issues that came up in the diversity of our group, which was really awesome to hear all of the different issues and the challenges were, for me, I know what the challenges are on my end in looking at development, but to hear some of the serious challenges for me it stood out that it's really important for us to have a unified vision and a plan like our county worked on a Plan Onondaga, for example. There's a really good starting point and something that everybody can gather around and have a unified vision, which is really going to help us push this forward.

I absolutely agree. The focus here will need to be on municipalities, whether that be the city of Syracuse or some of our surrounding suburban municipalities. And it was encouraging, maybe reinforcing is the word, to know that there are some uniform challenges and that maybe by being advocates for the region, we can help to support the challenges within those individual communities.

What are some of those uniform challenges that were identified by those stakeholders?

I would say some of the zoning issues that we have currently, our county primarily has zoning ordinances that allow single family only, and anything that is multifamily or multi-use requires a special permit. So that's something that I think is really doable to go at that

That glaring statistic that came out of this that we've certainly highlighted is 1% of the land outside of the city of Syracuse in the county of Onondaga today is zoned for multifamily without special permits, 1% of the land. That's a pretty heartbreaking statistic, and knowing how hard it is sometimes in these towns and villages to get to the point where you can get over the not in my backyard challenges, those NIMBY challenges to understand that the need to increase that density and it's a regionwide problem now. So this helps put a spotlight on that.

For you both, was this a new experience being in a room with this many diverse stakeholders of, I'm sure you're used to kind of talking to people in your own field, but this was people from all across the housing spectrum from developers like yourselves to financial institutions and community leaders. So what was that experience like?

I'll say it was unique in that oftentimes we're either kind of tunnel vision on the affordable product or tunnel vision on the multifamily market, but in this case, you had everything from, I'll say the single housing home developers and the realtors down to land bank and the affordable housing developers. So it was a good swath and the challenges are similar but are certainly not always the same, and I think it helped to put some of those perspectives into the mix.

It was definitely unique in that in our work, we're usually working with the developer, we're working with a municipality, but really not hearing the public side. So right down to the person who needs affordable housing. The complexity of it all is making it difficult, but at the same time, I feel that we need to take it one step at a time, and we do have examples in our community where this is happening and we do have even existing fabric where we have this kind of a density that will help us and inform us in the steps going forward.

Can you tell me a little bit about some of those examples that you just mentioned, some of those existing fabrics that could be starting points for all of us to look at a model for housing of the future?

So there are proposals that are currently for both the Shopping Town mall and the Great Northern Mall, which would allow for this multi-use, which would have residential and other uses, residential commercial service in retail as well. There's a good example in the town of Salina where the zoning is being changed so that there is an allowance for multi-family use. So for example, there it would be the Le Moyne Manor or the new apartments at the Will & Baumer Candle Factory. Those are some of the ones that are on the table propose and even moving forward. But you can also go back and look at where we have density. Our city is a wonderful example. Our downtown is a wonderful example. So it is doable and we are up for this challenge and there are developers working in this vein already.

I'll say the timing was really appropriate with where we were with the New York State budget and if we've followed kind of where the statewide housing initiatives have been and maybe have been a little stuck in the past two years, these pro-housing communities and the initiative to establish housing communities, which would then be more eligible for the funding and would be supported particularly around affordability. That for a while was stuck in executive order land and now we're hearing the constructs of a New York state budget that includes they're saying $650 million of support for pro-housing communities. Well, what defines a pro-housing community? Now you have to help the municipalities unwind that a little bit and understand what that means and at what risk are they passing a town resolution to become a pro-housing community. Hopefully very little risk. It just becomes another tool in their toolbox for redevelopment. But it was good because I think when you have not only the swath of the group that was gathered in this committee, but also maybe some of the administrative bandwidth of having CenterState CEO there to administer it, that you've got Ben Sio and Jared, Kevin Schwab, that whole group, Jared Shepherd, Kevin Schwab, it's just helpful because they're helping us as an organization to understand statewide legislation, political will and all those things that are going to hopefully make this all a reality. So it was a good group.


Now I want to talk a little bit more about the memo itself. Can we dig in a little bit to what the recommendations actually are? So if you wouldn't mind walking me the recommendations in the memo and how you came to those four recommendations.

Well, the first one you alluded to earlier, kind of yes, for our backyard in our neighborhood, we really need to advocate for this kind of housing, which is what we've had historically as the cities grow. That was number one to us it was the most important because we have to kind of get over that hurdle. Now, again, there are communities that are doing this and I feel as if we can focus on those communities, they're already ready to do that and understanding how to do that and build upon their existing infrastructure, that's a real plus. So I think that's why that landed first.

Yeah, I can't remember which number it was, but certainly the focus on blended affordability, inclusivity to the credit of both our city of Syracuse IDA and the Onondaga County IDA, they now have pilot programs where they're trying to incentivize the developers who are doing the right thing to incorporate percentages of affordability into the unit mix. And that's the right way to do it. You're trying to dilute the poverty and the term we say is no poor floors or poor doors. The best way to deal with poverty is to really work, look at affordability, look at percentages of what should be attainable and projects that get public incentive. So that's a big part I think, of where we need to go with the education piece and the advocacy piece. Now to make that explained on a regionwide level.

And the capital availability, that's the big one, right? That's the elephant in the room.

Back to the pro-housing communities, right? 650 million statewide. That's not chump change. So how do we access it?

And also I think this opportunity with Micron coming into the area, perhaps it's going to help with some of the lending because the risk is less in some ways than it has been in the past. So kind of leveraging that. But that is one area where I think it's going to take a lot of leadership, vision, and collaboration and working across party lines and getting into state and federal areas because that's the hard one in my opinion.

But we did have lenders and credit unions as part of that committee, and there's frustration on their behalf just because of balance sheets and ratios. There's not a lot of developer-led real estate lending out there. A lot of banks have almost more moratoriums on that type of lending right now. So it's going to be some time I think, and still it's kind of the post-COVID hangover of all this that the ratios with the banks aren't where they need to be to be a little more aggressive with that. So it will take some time, I think, to free up some of that capital, but hopefully aided by some public incentives that blend will be attainable.

The fourth is clarity on our changing markets. There's a lot happening with our demographics also, with more population coming this way and different age groups, we're definitely looking at a different style of housing, which it gets to this more dense multifamily type housing. So there was a good focus I thought on how do we bring that to the forefront? How are we going to understand and move forward without a study? It's not really possible. So feasibility, again, looking at our market analytics and trying to understand who wants what kind of housing, we do need to have that diverse housing option from single family all the way through to city dense living.

But the families that we would hope and think would be incoming here in the next decade, it's going to change the overall demographic in a younger shift. And those will be more, I'll say active families or folks who haven't necessarily grown up here who might now kind of be at the retirement stage where they're either spending less time here to begin with or they are maybe just a little more homebound. So now you have this more active demographic that's going to be much more focused on desirability of school districts, the amenities and the town centers that they want to have access to.

Mobility, walkability.

Yep. Parks and more

amenities. And also the aging in place as well. Not only do we want to bring in the younger demographic that we know is coming our way, we also want to be able to have our older citizens stay in the places they want to stay in and age there in a more dense community where they have those services close by.

It's funny because that one's an opportunity and a challenge. You have a number of empty nester households, particularly in the suburbs here where I think if there was housing stock that was desirable to the 65, 75-year-old crowd, they would consider downsizing and leave those homes, those larger homes with multiple bedrooms. That would be great for families that are moving here. It would leave that housing stock available for that new family in town, but right now there's not a good place for that senior community to go. There just is not the housing options. So it's like I say, a challenge and an opportunity.

This all, like you said, Joanne, Andy, very complex. And some of the statistics that get floated around are also kind of daunting. I mean, recently we saw that locally rents have increased 57% over the last seven years. We need roughly 2,500 new units a year to keep up with the demand, which is about six times more than what was permitted in 2023. I mean, these aren't easy pills to swallow. So how do you guys in your day-to-day life, talk about housing with the people and the community members that you talk to, make it still feel imperative as an issue, but also doable?

I think the biggest concern about that with the cost of the average rental house especially, is kind of this underbelly of affordability for if the rent of a unit that was previously $800 can now the marketplace bear $1,200, what happens to that individual who could only pay $700 and was making it a stretch to pay 800? And there are major concerns about what not having the housing stock in the first place means to affordability for lower class and lower middle class. And that's exactly why I think the state focus, the governor's budget, all of it has been so focused on affordability and housing and where those developments are going to take place. So it's absolutely critical that we get that right. And it's not an easy answer.

I try to explain to people I know and my clients, we can't get overwhelmed. This is really important. We've got to walk through this and look at existing examples and focus on all of the policy and programs that Andy's speaking of, working with what we have, try to think about development in areas where we already have the infrastructure for one that we can repair existing housing stock or we can infill to try to keep those costs as low as possible and not move out beyond our suburban areas. We don't want to expand that footprint. We want to keep it inward and make sure that people have the opportunity to be connected to everything, including the recreation that we have in a beautiful place that we live in. And our hope is that if we keep the advocacy moving along and we keep this group of people together and also have our community informed that we can overcome these challenges, but that is the major challenge at this point.

There's also an important tie that's starting to be more visible maybe with the philanthropic and charitable community. Charitable community, which you see it certainly with Allen Foundation and the projects that they're taking on. The Central New York Community Foundation is now doing a lot more with impact investment to focus especially on housing and on financial literacy and housing readiness. So it's encouraging to know that people are listening in the charitable community and thinking about how some of those private funds can help to leverage some of the public incentive. And I think that's really just in its infancy, but the fact that the people are talking about it is a good sign and certainly kudos to folks like the Allen Foundation who sense the need and are trying to do what they can to inject themselves into Blueprint 15 and into the housing initiatives on the south side. So we need more of that. And I think just having this become more of a headline just promotes that sort of synergy.

Along those lines, this community that we live in has worked really hard to get where we are now and with not a lot of resources, with folks like the Allen Family Foundation. So I do think as much as it seems like it's an uphill battle, we have the wherewithal to do it. We've been fighting for this for a long time and we're really excited that we have the opportunity coming our way, so we got to keep it optimistic. That's


We're going to continue this conversation in just a moment. But first, a quick word from our presenting sponsor, NBT Bank.

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This is Talk CNY, presented by NBT Bank. I'm Katie Zilcosky. Today I'm joined by CenterState CEO's Housing Task Force co-chairs, Andy Breuer and Joanne Gagliano. Thank you both for being here today.

You're welcome.

So housing comes with a lot of vocabulary and terms that might be unclear or vague to people who aren't thinking about it every day. So I want to take some time.

They don't have to live it every day. Yeah,

Exactly. But we want to take some time now and kind of expand on some of those terms, maybe provide that clarity for people so when they hear them in a news story or when people are talking about them, they can actually put a picture to the word. So

You have to quiz us on our

definition. We are. This is kind of a quiz for you guys and information for our listeners as well. So the first one is PILOT. So Andy, I'm going to get start with you.

That's easy one. Payment in lieu of taxes. So these are agreements that are typically arrived on with our industrial development agencies, whether that be OCIDA, where in lieu of traditional property taxes, you strike an agreement with that agency to provide a payment. It typically works on a scale to, I guess incentivize the early years of a development and ultimately get it back up to the market rate for property tax rolls.

Now the next one we have is residential multifamily housing. So who wants to take that one.

I can take that. So the residential multifamily housing, it just means that you have multiple people or families in one unit, or it could be in smaller units. So it's anything from an apartment at the most dense to townhouses, condos, it could then go to a two to four-family residence. And this is all in an area that's in a walkable community typically. And it could include a multi-use facility, which would mean that in addition to residential, you could have other businesses or services within that.

Alright, next quiz question is restrictive zoning.

So restrictive zoning simply means that the zoning ordinance doesn't allow for multiple options in housing in this case. So in the case of Onondaga County, the majority of the zoning ordinances only allow single-family zoning. So in other words, a developer comes in and by-right and going through a review process, you can build a single-family home on a lot, but in order to build a multi-family, you would have to go through a special use permit. So that's something we'd like to see updated because it isn't really in a contemporary way right now. It's more related to the previous type of development.

If we could see some percentage of the land outside the city where there was within right, the ability to do more than 15 units at a time, that would obviously go a long way to help with our density.

Can you explain in-right a little bit? I think that term as well might be one that people

Sure. I guess within zoning, right, where it is naturally where I could just go in and get a building permit without having to go to a special use permit. So allowable, right? It's

allowed in the zoning ordinance. So if a use that you were to try to bring forward for approval, that's allowed. And that is the issue right now, that anything more dense than a single-family unit is not allowed by-right. In other words, you'd have to ask for special permission to do that and go through a public process.

All right, next we have transit oriented development.

So again, transit oriented development has to do with the ability for people to live in a condition where it's mainly walkable and they're connected to other communities also with a high quality transit service like a bus service. And in addition to that, you're going to want to have the ability not only to move and buy goods in your own area, but then be able to regionally move around by a bus system,

A traditional live, work, play community. If you can check those boxes, then you're likely in a transit transit oriented community.

The last one I have for you both is missing middle housing.

Okay. Oh, that's an EDR special. So

The missing middle, we've been talking about it without saying the words, but the missing middle in our community is between anything between a single-family unit, which is one house on one lot, all the way to the density of our downtown. So that missing middle that we are looking to build are those multifamily units, again, from the highest density of apartments to the two condominiums or townhouses or multifamily houses that are two to four. These are houses that could be built side by side above each other, multistory. And again, our county doesn't have much of that, and that's really also the most affordable housing. So only 13% of our housing stock currently right now is that type of housing.

I was recently talking to a developer friend in Washington DC area, and he said that really the hottest trend right now and what they're trying to build to meet that missing middle density is a two over two. So literally two story units over two story units. Obviously, the upper floors would be a two-story walkup or you need a small elevator, but people want the size and space of a townhome. But in some cases to build those two story townhomes isn't dense enough. So now you have to have two-story townhomes on top of two-story town homes, which is interesting to me that that's a desirable product, but it makes a lot of sense for that missing middle density.

It does, and the nice thing about it between the two from a single family to a downtown condition is really that it should fit into that character. So the more dense would be closer to the city and then it would be less density as it got out toward single family residential. And we

Already, that progression should feel tangible when you're That's right. There are places, I mean if you drive on Genesee Street and you start heading east towards the way you can kind of feel how it steps down. And if we were able to achieve that, I think in radius around the city, there's a lot of ways to do it.

Yeah, it sounds like there are some really creative ways to create that missing middle housing that isn't just the traditional apartment or single family housing. And like you said, that two over two is something else that something new and creative that we could put into our city potentially to add affordability and density and places for people to live.

And where people still feel like they kind of have a front door and they're not in an apartment building. There are options out there and people are getting more creative to solve them.

I want to wrap up here by looking a little bit into the future or trying to maybe, so take yourself kind of 10 years down the line. Central New York has a very vibrant, affordable housing landscape. What does that look like to you?

Yeah, for me, I'm a lifelong resident of this area and my hope is that people that want to be here can stay here and grow and there'll be thriving business because of the housing as an employer. It gives options for people to come and work here. And I think being able to raise your family here, there's a great quality of life and we have wonderful opportunities all around us and our natural resources. So for me, it's kind of letting people know what we are here. I think sometimes we're the only ones that know what's going on. We get new visitors in town and they just think it's amazing. I want people to be able to stay here and come here and grow and have a prosperous life and hopefully this really solves a lot of the issues with accessibility and of all of our community having a home that they can afford to live in.

I think that the desirability of the school districts and kind of the inner suburbs and in urban Syracuse is going to be an important part of how we address it. You want to have desirable education options for K through 12 for the families that we hope are going to be enticed to come here in this Micron economy. And I think as we look to celebrate and put on a bit of a pedestal Say Yes to Education and some of the good inner suburb schooling options, I think that's important. Sometimes I think that maybe gets lost in the realtor brokerage community to promote some of those opportunities when people come to visit this town. So there are great communities in the city of Syracuse and in the near suburbs that we need to really start to prop up a little bit more.

Well, I want to thank you both for your time today and for your work on the housing task force as well. It's been great to talk to you.

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