Building for Equal Opportunity

When a big developer comes to Syracuse and asks for a break on paying their property taxes, that’s an opportunity. City Hall can use the promise of a tax break to negotiate for that developer to do something good for Syracuse.

City Hall used to miss these opportunities all the time. Anybody willing to build in the City could get a tax break without promising to do anything to benefit the community. In the past couple of years, though, City Hall has started asking for more. Recent projects have traded tax breaks for new rent-controlled apartments and promises to hire city residents for construction jobs.

That change is good. It means that Syracuse is becoming more valuable, and that City Hall is using its leverage over the people who want to exploit that value. It also means that City Hall can get more creative about how it uses tax breaks to benefit the community.

Here’s one idea: use tax breaks to concentrate new building in areas with good bus service.

People who get around by riding the bus do not have equal access to opportunity in Syracuse. A lot of employers are beyond Centro’s reach, and that keeps a lot of willing and able people from getting and holding a job. A lot of new quality housing has the same problem.

It’s in the community’s interest to fix this situation–to make more jobs and more housing accessible to bus riders–and that’s going to mean more building in places that support quality bus service.

So the next time some developer comes looking for a tax break to build a new apartment or office in Syracuse, City Hall can use that opportunity to get that project built in a place that bus riders can get to. It’s a new use for an existing policy tool, and it will give more people equal access to opportunity in Syracuse.