Bringing Stability to Renters in Syracuse: Improving Housing Quality

Written by Lacey Kido, in collaboration with Samantha Linnett.

This post is the first in a series of three about the Innovation Team’s housing stability initiatives.

A little over a year ago, we asked for your input on what our next priority area should be. After six weeks of public engagement, nearly 900 votes from residents, and input from the Common Council, the Mayor chose Housing Stability as our next challenge to tackle.

Last month, the City of Syracuse launched 11 new housing stability initiatives to improve housing and reduce transiency for our residents. With a shocking number of forced moves in our city, these new initiatives will help to build better communities, establish stability in high-need areas, and provide resources to families in danger of forced moves.

Roughly 25 percent of Syracuse households move at least once every year. Frequent forced moves have damaging financial and health impacts on residents and neighborhoods, especially on school-aged children. Through the support of various City departments and community partners, the collective worked with the i-team to develop goals and initiatives that could be successfully implemented to reduce that number.

The City set three goals to improve housing stability:

  1. Improve Housing Quality

  2. Reduce Evictions

  3. Connect Residents with Resources

Improve Housing Quality

Anywhere between 15 and 44 housing units are declared unfit to live in by the City’s Division of Code Enforcement each month. When a property is declared “unfit,” it is unsafe and tenants must move if the violations are not fixed within the next few days. People moving from poor or unsafe housing conditions often end up in worse quality housing, or even end up homeless.

To start to address housing quality, the i-team worked with the Department of Neighborhood and Business Development, the Division of Code Enforcement, and the Bureau of Administrative Adjudication to launch four initiatives.

Bureau of Administrative Adjudication

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Approximately 93% of health and safety property code violations are not resolved by the comply-by date because property owners know that it can take years to go through the legal system, leaving people in those properties exposed to unhealthy and unsafe conditions. The Bureau of Administrative Adjudication (BAA), which launched April 9th, will be an active force in issuing tickets and levying fines and penalties against property owners for unfixed code violations in a much faster timeframe. Different property code violations have different associated fines, and have an escalating fine schedule for multiple tickets issued on the same violation. Property owners will only receive a BAA ticket when they do not respond to initial code enforcement efforts. You can learn more about the BAA in this brochure.

Proactive Rental Registry Inspections

Credit Scott Willis /   WAER News

Credit Scott Willis /WAER News

It is estimated that only 30% of rental properties are registered with the City, leaving those not registered with the possibility of not being up to code and safe for residents. Without rental registry inspections, if code enforcement does not receive a complaint of possible problems in a home, they can only view the outside of properties and potentially miss larger problems inside. The Division of Code Enforcement has started scheduling Proactive Rental Registry Inspections for property owners who submit a rental registry application, but do not schedule an inspection. Owners and tenants will be notified at 60 days and again 30 days in advance of their scheduled inspection. To reschedule, they can call the Division of Code Enforcement. Rental properties that do not apply to the registry will begin to receive tickets from the BAA starting in mid-April. During its pilot phase, this program resulted in interior inspections of 67% of properties contacted. Of those, 67.5% passed their inspections on the first try.

Proudly Owning Part of Syracuse

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Many of our property owners in the city are doing a great job maintaining and improving their rental properties. In looking to recognize all the positive renovations and successes in Syracuse to improve the quality of housing, the City is launching Proudly Owning Part of Syracuse, a property improvement recognition program. With quarterly recognition of landlords who are actively working to improve housing and investing in the growth and revival of neighborhoods, code enforcement officers will make the nominations directly to the City. Owners will be recognized on the City’s social media channels and receive a letter from the Mayor. Our first owner will be recognized this month!

Rent Escrow Account Program

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Finally, the City is undertaking a feasibility study for a Rent Escrow Account Program (REAP). Modeled after the City of LA’s program, this program will help tenants living in a property with code violations to legally withhold their rent by paying into an escrow account with the City until the code violations have been corrected. Funds can be used from the escrow account to make the repairs to the property until all violations have been settled. After violations have been addressed, the rent balance is returned to the property owner.

Join us tomorrow as we discuss the second set of housing initiatives, aimed at reducing evictions, and see how City departments are working to improve the quality of living in the City of Syracuse! Download the full list of initiatives below.