Stunned would be an understatement, if you spoke with some residents and affordable housing advocates when it was learned the city of Syracuse would embrace the development project called Blueprint 15. Properties owned by Syracuse Housing Authority would be transformed into a new community, gone would be the 1938 built housing. The series of Public Housing properties, replaced by a grid of housing that according to its name and announced purpose, is an attempt at trying to recreate what was once the 15th Ward of Syracuse. Therefore, the projects name Blueprint 15.
Blueprint 15 is a project based on a community building concept that’s been implemented in a number of cities, the degree of success is debatable, depending on whom you speak with and what are acceptable measures of success. Everyone can agree that having concentrated poverty serves no one.
Syracuse embarks on the largest overhaul since Urban Renewal and Interstate 81 forever changed the lives of those living in socially-connected, contiguous neighborhoods. These neighborhoods were primarily inhabited by African Americans.
In a meeting at Syracuse City Hall on Wednesday February 21st, urbancny.com spoke with a number of officials directly involved with Blueprint 15, participants included; Greg Loh, Director of Initiatives; Sharon Owens, Deputy Mayor; William Simmons Director Syracuse Housing Authority and Margaret (Meg) O’Connell of the Allyn Family Foundation.
All made assurances that nothing is going to happen until they hire an Executive Director for Blueprint 15. The Allyn Family Foundation emphasized their participation as that of a facilitator in this process, and that every aspect is going to be community driven. The real work is ready to begin, for those interested see the job description link click on Executive Director for Blueprint 15 – Job Description.
Deputy Mayor Owens Sets the Tone “What we see is an opportunity”
Syracuse Deputy Mayor, Sharon Owens sought to reassure people who were taken aback by the Allyn Family Foundation based information as presented on Syracuse.com, “I want the Syracuse community to understand that there are no plans, what we see is an opportunity to create a revitalized community, we know what the construction of 81 did to the 15th Ward, hence the name reestablishing what everybody remembers as a strong, mixed-use community with people from every race, ethnicity and religion, even socio-economic class. And all of the people talking about the 15th Ward talk about it in a warm way; all we are doing is considering the possibilities.”
It has become common knowledge across the country that HUD is no longer funding the type of housing projects we currently have. The 1938 project is 81 years old and without funds for basic maintenance and repair they (SHA)have to come up with creative solutions to what’s become a problem nationwide, how to fund public housing. How to maintain public housing when there are no funds allocated for their continued use.
Deputy Mayor Owens states “Look at the possibilities for re-development. I’m not asking anyone to trust me; I’ve been in this community working in neighborhoods for thirty years, everything I do is about the individuals in this community. Looking at the possibilities with the individuals who live in the footprint of that highway, and the footprint from Almond all the over to Salina, is mind first and foremost. The conversations about 81 for me have not been about powers, they’ve been about the people who lay their heads down in the shadow of that viaduct.”
The conversation about Public Housing began with a presentation at Syracuse University, about how new communities where created, all of them were housing authorities. That is the national model partnering with housing authorities because they have control over the land.
Owens continues, “That presentation sparked a conversation, it’s not just about housing, it was about commercial development, about amenities in communities, and the biggest part for them is school, cradle-to-grave education. But particularly early education and elementary education, the one in Atlanta had a state-of-the-art high school in it and an elementary school pipeline going through it. So, part of this conversation has been in concert with the school district, even before receivership, King School is in the footprint of what is going on there. And is going to be impacted by whatever the final decision is with 81.
So, that presentation of the comprehensive nature of the model really sparked my interest, but you never know, Power Point is fine but when the opportunity came to say, yeah I’d like to see what this looks like, I’d like to be able to say, I touched it, I felt it, I talked to people, I got the gist of what you’re talking about. That’s when I had an opportunity to go down to Atlanta and visit the administrators at the high school, and talk to the students that were there, talk to some of the residents who were at Purpose Build…I just think a new kind of affordable housing for people is deserving of people. We have to figure this out because the model of support from HUD is changing, for what has been the traditional housing project.”
Syracuse Housing Authority has been planning this transformation for Years
For Syracuse Housing Authority the concept of leveraging their high value real estate has been a part of their future plans as outlined in an urbancny.com interview with Syracuse Housing Authority Director, William Simmons. Major changes are coming to Syracuse Housing Authority regardless of what happens with Interstate 81
At that time the director indicated problems they were having with traditional public housing resources since HUD has reduced support for the nation’s public housing stock. Nationwide, Housing Authorities have scrambled to come up with solutions to an ever growing problem.
The Allyn Foundation facilitated Simmons and members of SHA’s board member visits to Atlanta for an opportunity to see East Lake, a location where, according to supporters, this concept has been successfully deployed.
There were informational events that discussed Purpose Built and the role this innovative concept can play in the redevelopment of SHA properties, according to Simmons, “From there the board said, ‘yeah, let’s combine this effort, that’s going to take what we want to do here, in terms of mixed income and new housing and make it a holistic kind of development, whereby it creates pathways out of poverty for people because of the education and wellness component.’”
“The approach was to get a master developer on board that could start to plan this stuff out, have the community engagement with the stake holders, employees and residents. And really start laying out a real plan for the neighborhood, and having master developer on board that has done these kinds of things in other communities, some of them have done it for Purpose Built in other communities. But they’ve done them all over the country, in terms of having mixed income housing and working with public housing developments. Because it’s a very, very complicated process, especially when you have a fully leased development, how you handle residents. Public Housing, it’s very different than the way people are treated when they’re living in housing and market forces come and remove them.”
Syracuse Housing Authority Director Simmons outlined what the Syracuse Housing Authority are tasked with prior to making any major changes to Public Housing, Simmons states, “This is Public Housing, HUD’s not going to let you walk all over folks, those days are long gone. You gotta have a temporary relocation plan, no matter how temporary it may be, that it’s satisfactory to Fair Housing, Civil Rights groups. It’s a long process ahead of us, and approval from HUD before they finance any demolition of public housing.”
The ink is still dry on this proposal, members of the Syracuse Common Council and others have gone on Allyn Foundation funded informational junkets to learn more about this project.
More Questions than Answers
There are more questions than answers regarding Blueprint 15, for example; are there any cities the size of Syracuse, with similar demographics that have embraced this public housing transformation? Are there cities experiencing extreme poverty at the level of Syracuse’s part of the comparison? And, is it appropriate to compare a program that is successful in communities that have populations of a few million to Syracuse’s 144,000 residents? Will employment status and/or criminal record prevent inclusion in the new community?
Cautious Concern Expressed
The list of Blueprint 15 Board of Directors has been released, they’ve yet to meet. When approached about this project some were oblivious to any specifics. One board member expressed concern and disclosed on the condition of anonymity that, “ the project in other parts of the nation has transformed communities, but where I’ve been, they’ve also pushed people out, armed with vouchers these public housing residents disappear as they’re replaced by new, higher income people who can afford market rate housing.”
- Purpose Built website under its Network tab: Purpose Built
- Syracuse Community members have made the trip to Atlanta Eastlake site: Atlanta Eastlake – Purpose Built Community
- Members of the SHA board visited the New Orleans site: New Orleans – Purpose Built Community
- Deputy Mayor, Sharon Owens visited (non-funded) while in Florida the Orlando site: Orlando – Purpose Built Community
All of these visits were made in order to experience the location and talk to the people there.