In the past we’ve written about the impacts of unsafe, unhealthy, and unstable housing. But what do we actually mean when we say housing stability?
When we talk about housing instability, we are talking about the high frequency of forced moves that our residents endure. Many of these moves are forced by poor housing quality, unstable neighborhood conditions, and high costs of housing in relation to income. All of these conditions can contribute to doubling up and overcrowding in housing units, chronic homelessness, and a high rate of unplanned residential mobility. Frequent forced moves have damaging financial and health impacts on our residents and neighborhoods, especially on our school-aged children.
According to analysis done by the Community Benchmarks program at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, 25% of our residents move at least once a year. In some census tracts that number is more than 35%. That's higher than Rochester, Albany, and Buffalo, and more than twice the national average of 11.2%. For children under the age of 17, 21% move at least once a year, with that number more than doubling to 43% in some census tracts. When we look at just our renter population, these numbers are higher.
What is causing this many moves?
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.
An average of 11,000 residents are evicted each year in Syracuse. According to Maxwell’s Community Benchmarks program, that’s approximately 13-16.7% of our renter population. The largest cause of eviction is the tenant’s inability to pay their rent on time. In Syracuse, almost 55% of our renters spend 30% or more of their income on housing costs, including rent and utilities. This rate of housing cost burden is well over 60% in some of our census tracts.
Still more residents are forced to move in an attempt to escape neighborhood conditions, such as pockets of high crime rates, high vacancy, lack of access to reliable transportation, and lack of access to basic amenities like groceries and healthy food.
How do these moves impact our residents?
According to Matthew Desmond in his 2016 book Evicted, people who have frequent forced moves are 15% more likely to lose their jobs, experience a 20% increase in material hardship, and are 25% more likely to have chronic housing problems. For children, experiencing three or more moves reduces their probability of graduating high school by 10-14%.
One in 10 of Syracuse City School District students were homeless in 2016, more than any school district in the state outside of New York City. According to an article in Syracuse.com, most of these students aren’t living in shelters, but are couch hopping because:
“For some reason, most often eviction, their families lost their apartment or house. The kids live in a series of cobbled together arrangements, shuffling from one borrowed couch or bed to the next, waiting until the welcome runs out. Home may change from week to week.”
We have started to address some of these challenges related to the health and safety of our housing stock with our Division of Code Enforcement through the TOP pilot program. The results even in the first six weeks of the program were incredibly encouraging, and we are working now on how to expand it to more areas of the city.
Yet there is still a lot of work to be done on the city’s housing stability challenges. In the coming weeks, we will be deep diving into research on these challenges and working with our residents and community partners to develop initiatives to increase housing and neighborhood stability in our city.