City Hall’s ReZone project is an opportunity to unmake the mistakes that have made Syracuse into a segregated city. That will require change, though, because the new zoning map is drawn in such a way that it will entrench inequality and exacerbate the disparities between the City’s neighborhoods.
To see how, look at Census Tract 45 on the Eastside. This tract includes most of Westcott—a neighborhood where people want to move, where new businesses are opening, where people are investing. But Westcott is also a neighborhood where there’s not enough housing to accommodate all the people who want to live there, so rents are going up, and more people are having to crowd into what little housing there is.
3,784 people live in 1,649 homes in tract 45. Just over half of those homes are in multifamily buildings (green on the map below). The remainder are 1-family houses (yellow on the map below). Both types of housing are mixed across the tract.
ReZone allows single family housing everywhere in the City, but it bans multifamily housing from huge swaths of Syracuse, mostly in high opportunity neighborhoods like Westcott. The most recent draft of the new zoning map bans multifamily housing from most of tract 45. If it had been law when Westcott was originally laid out, less than half of the existing multifamily housing in the neighborhood could ever have been built.
Thankfully, all that existing multifamily housing will be grandfathered into ReZone as ‘noncomformities,’ but that label limits owners’ ability to invest in these homes—they won’t be able to make major renovations or additions—and the lot-by-lot ban on multifamily housing also will limit the opportunity to build enough new housing to relieve the neighborhood’s housing shortage. That will drive up rents even further, leaving Westcott unable to accommodate the people who want to live there and excluding people according to their income and wealth. The predictable result is increased residential segregation and the spread of gentrification to other parts of the City.
Westcott is a good neighborhood with access to jobs, businesses, schools and transportation. All of those things attract people looking to make a good life in Syracuse. But legal limits on multifamily housing exclude too many of those people who want to take advantage of all that Westcott and so many other neighborhoods have to offer. This exclusionary zoning is one root of Syracuse’s shameful history of economic and racial segregation, and ReZone is an opportunity to rip it out. The new ordinance must legalize multifamily housing across the entire City if neighborhoods of opportunity are going to be fully accessible to everyone who wants to live in them.