Two new residential projects planned for Downtown’s eastern edge indicate that developers may have finally run out of tenants willing and able to pay $2,000 a month to live in the city center, and now they’re building more affordable apartments.
For a full decade, this didn’t feel possible. Every single new apartment project got a front page story in the Post-Standard, they all filled up immediately, and they all charged ridiculous rents.
But for all of the noise it made, Downtown’s population boom wasn’t actually all that big. Downtown’s boosters estimate that about 1,500 more people live there now than did in 2010. That was a big increase for a small part of town, but it only accounts for 0.22% of the metro area’s total population. There just weren’t that many new apartments getting built, and so there weren’t that many people moving Downtown.
Developers understood that they were only building enough new housing to accommodate .22% of potential tenants, so they priced their apartments to attract the richest .22% of the metro area that they could get. $2,000 a month is an affordable rent for people making at least $75,000 a year. In 2010, only 71 Downtown households made that much. In 2018, 290 did. Households making at least $75,000 a year accounted for 83% of Downtown’s population growth over that period.
But there are only so many people willing and able to pay that much to live in the city center, and at least two developers think that part of the market is pretty much tapped-out. Grazi Zazzara (who previously turned the Blue Cross Blue Shield building into $2,000 a month apartments) and Matthew Paulus (who previously turned the Dietz Lantern factory into $2,000 a month apartments) have both recently announced separate projects to renovate Downtown buildings, and both developers will only charge people $1,000 a month to live in them. These guys are capitalists—they’re not lowering their rents out of the goodness of their hearts. They’re doing it because they don’t think they can get enough people to agree to pay $2,000 to live in these new apartments, and that’s because most people willing and able to pay that much already have a $2,000 apartment to live in.
Syracuse has a housing shortage. Too many people can’t make their rent, too many houses are poisoning the people who live in them, there are too few section 8 vouchers for everybody who needs them. These are the most pressing housing problems that City Hall, HUD, and all of the housing non-profits need to address.
But while all of those actors are attacking those problems, it’s good to see private developers building so much new housing that they’re forced to lower the rent in order to attract tenants who make a little less than the people living in Downtown’s penthouses. Those new tenants will still be richer than the City as a whole, those developers will still call the apartments ‘luxury,’ there’s still a lot more work to do to make Syracuse’s housing market equitable, but this is a sure step in the right direction.