“What About Us?”

Syracuse has the highest poverty rate in the Nation among African Americans at 65.2 percent –
Trick or Treat? New Initiatives Offer Promise of Economic Development 

“Economic Development”, those words mean different things to different people and groups. If you’re empowered, it can result in increased supports in the form of Tax Credits and other incentives. If you happen to reside in one of the identified pockets of poverty in the City of Syracuse it could mean a living hell.

Having worked on the Near Westside in 1994, the job; trying to improve a neighborhood that happened to be in one of the poorest Census Tracts in the United States. At that time, the pocket of extreme poverty was restricted to the Near Westside. It was also predominantly white.

Twenty years later, those maps have changed radically, while there was some improvement on the Near Westside portions of the remaining city were in free-fall.

Poverty concentrated in the African-American and Hispanic neighborhoods in Syracuse has been identified as being among the highest in our nation. In fact, we’re number one when it comes to poverty concentrated within the African-American and Hispanic communities.

Promises, Promises…

One of many "artists renderings" of Destiny USA

One of many “artists renderings” of Destiny USA

For decades inner-city residents have been told that projects like Destiny USA, construction of residential and retail downtown and a handful of “minority themed” programs would be economic development. Over 3 Billion dollars have been spent on major projects, Destiny USA, Syracuse University, SUNY Upstate, Onondaga County Lake Improvement Projects, luxurious downtown condominiums,  high rent apartment development , just to name a few.

Those living in the worst conditions are asking, “What about us?”  If you recall the dazzling multimedia display extolling the benefits would come to our area if we gave Destiny USA a 30 year property tax deal. In a setting filled with maps, images and video.  Locals were made to feel that this was going to be the best thing to happen in Syracuse since the Erie Canal.

The presentation was impressive, happy children getting off school busses in tree lined neighborhoods, graphics of how our education system would be enhanced by the infusion of money to the public coffers.  A Tuscany themed village along with a re-creation of the Erie Canal, a golf course covering the stench emitting sewage tanks at the Metropolitan Sewage Treatment Facility. I forgot to add the project included a colossal dome covering the entire area.

Connective Corridor

Connective Corridor dedicated bike lane - University Avenue

Connective Corridor dedicated bike lane – University Avenue

Syracuse University spent hundreds of millions upgrading and transforming their hilltop campus. Another major project has Syracuse University expanding into the greater Syracuse community. The “The Connective Corridor”, leading from campus to downtown Syracuse, major developments are being built or are in the planning stages.

This past August, Onondaga County unveiled a state-of-the-art, 30 million dollar state funded amphitheater on the shores of a freshly cleansed Onondaga Lake.  Tickets for the first concert were $100 for prime seating, grass areas were for those who didn’t want to pony up requisite funds for the best spots.

What About “Us”?

As these projects were rolled out and completed, “people on the street” have become dismissive and discouraged. As one S. Geddes Street store owner said, “What’s in it for us, African-Americans, the growing mass of the impoverished?  People living in Syracuse aren’t getting any of these jobs; we are not being uplifted by this so-called economic development.”

Recently there was a report that identified Syracuse as a city with a concentrated poverty level of 65.2% among the African American population. The report illustrated the depth of the problem by mapping poverty on a city map.  Soon after the poverty report we’re shown a map of gang activity, the irony is if you overlay the poverty map over the gang activity map, there appears to be a correlation.

CNY Rising: From The Ground Up?  Alliance for Economic Inclusion

We now are being offered another, “plan” under the CNYREDC competitive proposal, CNY Rising: From The Ground Up. People may want to read the full 88 page proposal and draw their own conclusions.

Alliance for Economic Inclusion

Alliance for Economic Inclusion

CenterState CEO has rolled out a development proposal that includes an Alliance for Economic Inclusion The “alliance” includes the newly formed Upstate Minority Economic Alliance, MEA which is supposed to be a 16 –county “minority” Chamber of Commerce serving the Upstate and Central New York region. While this has been decades in coming, the vast size consisting of this collective does little to nothing to address the needs of the African-American business community, here in Syracuse.  When African-American concerns are grouped with every minority group in a 16 county region, African-Americans lose, buried in the vast size of this “regional” approach.

Over two decades many have approached CenterState CEO wanting an African-American “Chamber of Commerce” to deal specifically with the challenges of growing and sustaining a business in Syracuse. This proposal does little to address these localized concerns.

Decades of well-meaning economic development policies have failed Syracuse’s African-American community. There’s now a pot-of-gold at the end of the funding rainbow, there’s an incentive to become inclusive.

Opportunity for Growth and Development

There are a myriad of proposal and programs that have proven successful in developing home grown businesses in blighted neighborhoods.  The Green Party’s perennial candidate, Howie Hawkins has long supported worked-owned cooperatives as part of the local solution to sustainable business development, using the engines of enterprise that reside in the middle of our most underserved areas.

Poverty Map of Syracuse's extreme poverty

Poverty Map of Syracuse’s extreme poverty

“Syracuse has the highest rate of extreme poverty concentrated among blacks and Hispanics out of the nation’s 100 largest metropolitan areas”, according to a reports of this study of poverty in America. These figures are detailed in an analysis of local census data by a Rutgers University professor.

While recent data indicates Syracuse has consistently ranked as having one of the highest poverty rates in the nation, among African-American and Hispanics. In 1994, the near Westside was the poorest concentration of white poverty in America. Since then matters have gotten worse.

The Syracuse poverty rate has accelerated from 9 “extreme poverty” neighborhoods in 2000, escalating to a shocking 30 high poverty census tracks today. Extreme Poverty is described as an area where over 40% of the residents are living below the poverty level.

Highest black concentration of poverty

Rank Metropolitan area 2000 2005-09 2009-13
1 Syracuse, N.Y. 43.4 48.3 65.2
2 Detroit-Livonia-Dearborn, Mich. 17.3 41.1 57.6
3 Toledo, Ohio 18.7 43.4 54.5
4 Rochester, N.Y. 34.2 43.5 51.5
5 Fresno, Calif. 42.8 28.1 51.4
6 Buffalo-Niagara Falls, N.Y. 30.8 31.8 46.4
7 Cleveland-Elyria-Mentor, Ohio 26.7 36.7 45.5
8 Gary, Ind. 22.2 30.1 45.2
9 Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis, Wisc. 38.7 41 44.8
10 Louisville/Jefferson County, Ky.-Ind. 38.6 41.9 42.6

Source: 2000 Census, 2005-2009 and 2009-2013 ACS. Limited to the 100 largest metropolitan areas.

There’s a growing cry from the Syracuse African-American community that these “economic development” programs deliver little to nothing for the African-American business community.

The Edge Study among others indicated millions of dollars are flowing out from our S. Salina Street business corridor annually. These figures were for the S. Salina Street corridor only. This creates opportunities for tapping into local needs, by nurturing and building community- based worker owned entities. There are no clear provisions for expanding the Black ownership base that exists in the community today.

With approximately 50,000 African-Americans living in Syracuse you wouldn’t know it looking at our roster of Black owned businesses. Low rent Incubation, high-risk no interest loans, grants and other creative incentives are required to create sustainable businesses in the middle of our most impoverished neighborhoods.

In their rush to get the money from the Central New York Regional Economic Development Council, CenterState CEO has created a proposal that’s chock full of clichés on inclusion. What is not revealed in these plans, are details that address our current crisis, the 65.2% of Syracuse’s African-American living in concentrated poverty.

Centerstate CEO led, Upstate Revitalization Initiative Proposal

Centerstate CEO led, Upstate Revitalization Initiative Proposal

The CNYREDC proposal, CNY Rising: From The Ground Up states, “The Alliance will lead and implement strategies toward best practices in training, eliminating misalignment of skills, increasing education, fighting blight and addressing homelessness to ensure that no Central New Yorkers are left behind as these efforts are pursued.”   

CNY Rising: From The Ground Up includes a funding requested that could result in the dissolution of the City of Syracuse. These are the political and socio-economic implications of “Government Modernization”.  Just as the African-American community is poised to take power due to demographic changes, current leadership is rushing to change the rules of the game.

There are hidden racial implications in this proposal that negatively impact growing minority voting power and localized representation.  Tampering with representative government in the City of Syracuse is tantamount to moving a celebrated brass ring, just as we’re about the grab it.

The aforementioned, lavender scented, warm and fuzzy clichés about “inclusion” are not offering real economic development solutions to this crisis in Syracuse. Syracuse’s African-Americans are living in concentrated poverty.    Unless you’re homeless, or a teen beginning their journey, the question remains from the African-American Community, which remains to be answered “what about us?”