Affordable Rental Housing in Syracuse: “Like a Raisin in the Sun”

With fanfare, the State University of New York has purchased the defunct high-rises Harrison House and Townsend Towers.

As an aging native Syracusan I’ve watched this place go from a college town to the region’s center of education and medical treatment. As the experts say, “meds and ed” are our future.

I can’t help from waxing nostalgic remembering the promise of affordable housing in the form of towers rising from the ruins of urban renewal. From the beginning there were problems with these properties, and their entire facades had to be “rehung” since the material holding the prefabricated sections in place had lost their hold like a bad tube of Polygrip.

From Mulberry Square to Kennedy Square properties dedicated towards our stock of affordable housing has disappeared. Usually poorly constructed and marginally maintained as the post-urban renewal commitments expired, these properties were allowed to go into disrepair and ruin.

By the time Kennedy Square was taken by bulldozers the roof shingles were peeling like George Hamilton’s skin after an extended stay at the beach.

I believe the new SUNY development will invigorate the area with young professionals creating a developer’s dream. Shops and other amenities catering to the new tenants’ consumer needs would become the economic catalyst for the area.

Pair that with the destruction of the elevated portion of Interstate 81.

I don’t want 81 to come down: the highway makes us look more dynamic than we are as it snakes through our urban core providing a panoramic view of a city on the verge of great recovery and expansion of opportunity. That highway is coming down and so will some housing from Pioneer Homes and other affordable housing properties in the area. And nobody will say a word.

First to go will be housing closest to the highway.
“We need to move you for the duration of the project, but we will return you to your neighborhood when we’re done.” Sound familiar?

The pattern of development occurring in the city of Syracuse will systemically eliminate affordable rental housing as quickly as you can press the delete button on your computer.

For those old enough to remember, there was a famous address where the Syracuse University Chancellor William Pearson Tolley encouraged cleaning up the doorstep of the university, as the university endorsed the wholesale removal of people of color from its environs.

How much have we learned since Urban Renewal days (nicknamed Negro Removal for obvious reasons) when municipalities would simply declare an area “blighted” and get tons of federal money to reclaim and replenish the affordable housing stock. This practice is no longer acceptable — it’s better to simply ignore the properties until they are no longer fit for human habitation.

Now in Syracuse the idea of affordable rental housing is like dream differed from “A Raisin in the Sun.”

“Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun? Or fester like a sore–And then run? Does it stink like rotten meat? Or crust and sugar over–like a syrupy sweet?” –
Lorraine Hansberry