Category: Uncategorized

Lending Tree Study Ranked Syracuse Second in Economic Disparity

Community health, like personal health, requires a holistic approach. To thrive as a community, we need strong employment opportunities, access to good homes, and schools that prepare our young people for the future to name a few.

In order to determine the economic health of an area, experts look at metrics like education, home ownership, household income, and the unemployment rate. Without this data, it’s hard to understand where we are as a community and what stories that data tells about it.

In the fall of 2023, a study from LendingTree ranked Syracuse 2nd in economic disparity for Black residents. LendingTree analyzed five years of data from the U.S. Census, which focused on five metrics: education, home ownership, household income, the percentage of Black households making six figures, and the unemployment rate. Syracuse ranked 93rd or below in all five categories. So, how did we get to this point and what are we doing as a community to help address this inequity?

History of Redlining and its Effects on Current Housing 

One indicator of a strong and thriving local economy is the rate of home ownership. There’s a long list of both personal and communal benefits of owning a home. It allows individuals to build wealth, access tax credits, and generate a sense of community. While neighborhoods with higher rates of homeownership tend to have higher property values, which means there’s additional funding for public services like schools and infrastructure. A home provides stability and can be passed down from one generation to the next.

Unfortunately, not everyone in our community has had equal access to purchasing a home. For Black residents, a history of racist housing policies and community disinvestment has led to inequality in homeownership. Some of the most impoverished areas of Syracuse today reflect redlined districts resulting from the National Housing Act of 1934, which led to a large increase in residential racial segregation and urban decay in US cities. While redlining is no longer considered a lawful practice under the Fair Housing Act of 1968, the effects of these deeply rooted inequalities continue to live on.

Right now, only 28.6% of Onondaga County’s Black residents own their homes compared to 72% of White residents, according to the Lending Tree Study . Black homeowners also pay more for mortgage loans, which only works to set families back from achieving financial freedom.

Local nonprofits such as Home HeadQuarters and the Greater Syracuse Land Bank have worked for decades to address the multifaceted housing issue. This includes increasing the local housing stock, remediating lead in homes, and providing accessible loans for Black citizens. For example, Home HeadQuarters (HHQ) has spearheaded efforts to cut racial gaps in mortgage lending during the last three years. HHQ has made more than 200 home-purchase loans, which totaled $22.4 million with more than half of that lending going to Black or mixed-race borrowers.

Combined with the recent announcement of the Syracuse Housing Strategy and its investment in the local housing stock, there’s hope for a stronger housing future in Central New York.

Education: Where We Are, Where We Can Grow 

When looking at the metrics for economic disparity, you can see how interconnected the metrics are. Strong educational systems create pathways to good paying jobs, which creates enough wealth for homeownership, which in turn feeds the public schools system. These metrics are interconnected and need multi-pronged solutions in order to address economic disparities.

Education opens doors to economic opportunity. Census tracts throughout Central New York with lower median incomes had more people in the workforce without a high school diploma compared to tracts with higher median incomes. Historically, there have been significant economic and racial disparities in public school completion rates. In New York State, the graduation rate in 2021 for Black and Hispanic students was 80 percent, compared to 90 percent for White students.

Education has always been deeply connected to the wealth of a region.  Incomes are tied to public school completion and level of income. One positive sign is that, in Syracuse, disparities in graduation rates between some racial groups have decreased in recent years. In 2021, Black students in the Syracuse City School District had a higher graduation rate than white students (80% compared to 76%).

Due to the efforts of Central New Yorkers over the last two decades, the region is poised for rapid economic growth in the next ten years. One way to ensure equity in opportunities is through an investment in education and in workforce development which ensures that Central New Yorkers can fill in-demand and good-paying jobs in the tech and manufacturing sector. Community advocates are working to ensure that the most vulnerable communities benefit from this historic investment.

Workforce Development

Providing job opportunities with livable wages is critical for community and personal well-being. Lack of opportunity and underemployment creates hard decisions for families on where to spend finite resources.  Unemployment rates across the country skyrocketed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and cities across the US are still recovering.

In 2021, Syracuse had almost 90,000 unemployment beneficiaries, which was over seven times as many as the city saw before the pandemic. Historically these dips affect marginalized communities at a higher rate. For Black Americans, the unemployment rate is often 2-3 percent higher than their White counterparts.

Through initiatives like Syracuse Surge, the region is investing in new employment opportunities for its residents.  Through partnerships, Syracuse Surge invests in reskilling and upskilling Central New York residents for careers in coding, cybersecurity, and high-tech manufacturing. Since the program launched in 2019, it has reskilled and upskilled more than 1,000 city residents for careers in tech. This workforce development is crucial as Micron’s historic $100 billion investment promises to create up to 90,000 jobs in the next 20 years.

As the region attracts historic investment, it’s vital that these opportunities reach Central New Yorkers who currently live here.  In order to improve our community’s economic health and address critical disparities, we have to continue to invest in holistic changes for a better tomorrow.

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Our Children Cannot Wait: Urgent Responses Needed for Housing and Hunger in Syracuse

Child hungry cover photo

Article Submitted by Maura Ackerman on behalf of the Syracuse-Onondaga Food Systems Alliance, a coalition of local changemakers dedicated to a more just and equitable food future in the Central New York region, in partnership with the undersigned individuals and organizations.

We, the undersigned individual citizens and advocates from 15 community agencies in Central New York, write to raise the alarm about the critical shortage of safe housing and the growing rates of hunger experienced by families in our midst – affecting our children most acutely. On June 13th, we will convene a nonpartisan candidate-community conversation exploring these issues with candidates running for 22nd Congressional District, New York State Senate’s 48th and 50th Districts, and New York State Assembly’s 126th, 127th, 128th, and 129th Districts. The persistent challenges of hunger, unstable housing, and poor health outcomes facing our neighbors are deeply interconnected. They require that we work collectively to demand solutions from those in positions of authority at the local, state, and federal level.

One local family’s story illustrates the interconnectedness of these problems.

They became houseless in November 2023, after their apartment was deemed uninhabitable by code enforcement and their landlord refused to make the required repairs. During their ensuing housing search, upon presenting their Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers, the family was met with credit checks and income limits that repeatedly disqualified them. Through the winter and spring, they moved from a relative’s home to a hotel and then, after calling 211, to a shelter. As their housing situation got complicated, so too did their access to nutritious food. The head of the household — who cares for her daughter, son, and grandson — feels guilty she couldn’t secure safe housing and provide for her family and wishes there were more avenues of recourse to meet her family’s needs.

This family’s struggles are far from unique.

Within Syracuse, approximately 61% of residents are renters, and over half of those renters are considered “extremely cost burdened,” meaning that they spend over half of their monthly income on rent. Earlier this year, the New York Times released an analysis of the cities with the highest rent increases in the country. Syracuse was first on the list, with a 22% one-year increase from 2022 into 2023. According to court records, evictions granted to landlords grew by 35% over that same period.

Children are vulnerable to the ways that poverty impacts access to both housing and food. Recent US Census data indicates that 45.8% of Syracuse city children live in households with incomes at or below the federal poverty level, ranking it second-highest for a big city in the United States. Within the Syracuse City School District (SCSD), the percent of students who qualify as McKinney-Vento – defined as lacking a fixed, regular, or adequate nighttime residence – doubled from 4% in 2021-2022 school year to 8% in 2022-2023 and has continued to rise during the current academic year. For children in families facing housing instability, access to food also becomes more difficult. For example, while living at the hotel, the family referenced earlier were far from a bus line and needed Ubers to grocery shop. Due to the increased cost of transportation and food, no longer having a kitchen, and with the uncertainty of where they may be living in the coming month, they now rely more on fast food than prior to their eviction. The impacts on the health of children and families living with the daily stressors of housing instability and food insecurity cannot be overstated.

“There is a significant body of evidence that demonstrates that household food insecurity is related not only to acute health problems, but also contributes to higher rates of chronic disease that may persist into adulthood; these include asthma, mental health diagnoses, eczema, obesity and even delayed medical care,” says Dr. Jenica O’Malley, a local pediatrician. “The added stress of living through the compounded traumas of poverty contributes to caregiver anxiety and depression which only further negatively affect children’s short- and long-term health outcomes.”

Within Onondaga County, 9.7% of the population experiences food insecurity, yet the rate is nearly double for children, at 17.3%. Food insecurity, as defined by the USDA, reflects a household’s limited or uncertain access to adequate food. If a family’s income is at or below 130% of the federal poverty level, or $39,000 annual gross income, children qualify for and receive free breakfast and lunch at schools. In SCSD, 85% of students meet these criteria, but their access to food becomes limited when they return home and during school breaks.

While New York state has not yet joined other states to pass Healthy School Meals for All, schools where 25% or more students qualify for free school breakfast and lunch can receive a designation to provide meals to all students. As a result, SCSD students receive free breakfast and lunch during the school day – and at 29 SCSD afterschool sites, a free supper, as well. To support students and families experiencing housing instability, SCSD and community partners such as the Food Bank of Central New York, United Way of Central New York, and the Salvation Army have partnered to provide “Gratitude Meal Kits,” supplemental food boxes for families during extended school holidays. These services, known as emergency food systems, act as a stopgap in situations of acute need, but are not always able to close the difference between a household’s food purchasing power and their nutritional needs. As more people come to depend on them, it becomes evident that we need solutions that preserve dignity and agency while addressing the root issues that place families in vulnerable positions.

SNAP is the nation’s largest food assistance program and has demonstrated its effectiveness in our efforts to combat both hunger and poverty. The Census Bureau’s Supplemental Poverty Measure, an indicator of economic well-being, indicates that SNAP lifted 4.6 million people out of poverty in 2015. While individuals may experience barriers in signing up for the program, the Food Bank of Central New York hosts a program to support SNAP enrollment, and just this year has started to partner with SCSD to refer eligible families for this support. Despite narratives to the contrary, fraud is rare. Research demonstrates that SNAP supports local communities, offering a strong “return on investment” by generating $1.79 of local economic activity for every SNAP dollar. Programs are emerging to amplify SNAP further. Incentive programs like Double Up Food Bucks increase SNAP customers’ buying power for fruits and vegetables. Summer EBT provides additional benefits to households that qualify for free or reduced school meals with children when school is not in session and school meals are unavailable. SNAP is critical to address food insecurity and poverty. Yet, the monthly benefit for a single person earning $18,930/year is just $23/month.

During 2020 and 2021, the government responded to the COVID-19 crisis by implementing a combination of policies to support food insecure households, particularly those with children: 1) the expansion of the Child Tax Credit, 2) increases to SNAP benefits, 3) Pandemic EBT (SNAP benefits in lieu of school meals while schools were closed), and 4) protections for renters. This combination of supports collectively made a meaningful difference in moving the needle on childhood food insecurity in 2020 and 2021. What’s more, emerging research suggests that preventative economic supports significantly impacted child welfare for the better. Pandemic era expansions have now expired. The emergency food and shelter system in Syracuse is struggling to absorb demand as household spending power is diminished and rates of houselessness and food insecurity rise.

We need to leverage our power as citizens to push for measures that would ease financial strain so our neighbors can reorganize their resources to re-attain security. The solutions to these complex problems will require concerted efforts that engage all members of our community.

As a starting point to enacting tangible supports, the Syracuse-Onondaga Food Systems Alliance (SOFSA), alongside a number of partner organizations, is preparing to host a Candidate-Community Dialogue on Hunger, Housing, and Health from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday, June 13, at Living Waters Church, 121 Huron St, Syracuse. We invite members of the public to join this conversation about these urgent issues facing our community.

 

Organizational Signatories:

Maura Ackerman, Director, Syracuse-Onondaga Food Systems Alliance

Karen Belcher, Executive Director, Food Bank of Central New York

Anne C Bellows, Professor of Food Studies, Syracuse University

Beth A. Broadway, President/CEO, InterFaith Works of Central New York

Carolyn D. Brown, Executive Director, PEACE, Inc.

Taylor Deats, Market Manager, CNY Regional Market Authority

Scott Emery, Chief Strategy Officer, Healthy Alliance

Leif Frymire, Community Health Worker, Syracuse Northeast Community Center

Rebecca Garofano, School Dietitian, Syracuse City School District

Amy Haley-Canavan, Deputy Director, Women’s Opportunity Center

Jessi Lyons, Associate Executive Director, Brady Faith Center

Charles Madlock, Campaign Manager, Nourish Syracuse

Jess Miller, Founder, Kitchen Literacy Project

Caitlin Smith, Organizer, United Syracuse

Tylah Worrell, Executive Director, Urban Jobs Task Force of Syracuse

 

Individual Signatories:

Mary Carney (Eastside)

Elise Springuel (Memphis, NY)

Suzi Harriff (Manlius, NY)

Dr. Caitlin Toomey  (Skaneateles, NY)

Shelley Peabody (Eastside)

Adrianne Traub (Cortland, NY)

MoAde Jagusah (Southside)

Rick Welsh (DeWitt, NY)

Tim Bryant (Valley)

Ed Griffin-Nolan (Westside)

Amy Grover (Baldwinsville, NY)

Anna Zoodsma (Eastside)

Laura Jayne (Eastside)

Lisa Hart (Eastside)

Nick Piato (Lakefront)

Dr. Jenica O’Malley, DO  (Westside)

Todd Goehle (Southside)

Abigail Rumney (Nedrow, NY)

Charles Carrier (Westside)

Ivy Kleinbart (DeWitt, NY)

Rebecca Garden (New Woodstock, Ny)

Janine Jarvis  (Westside)

Qiana Williams (Eastside)

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Affordable Rental Housing: Who Gets it? What is it?

Guest Article: Benjamin Lockwood, President & CEO of Housing Visions

There is talk everywhere about the need for more affordable housing at the local, state, and federal level.  There is clearly a need, but what is affordable housing?  If I ask five different people to define affordable rental housing, I will get five different answers – none of which are incorrect. There is an array of affordable housing programs for rental housing.  The most visible are the Section 8 Voucher Program, Public Housing, and the Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) developments, which have significant overlap and additional supplemental Federal and State funding.

To better understand and demystify affordable rental housing I will get to some basic definitions.  Eligibility for affordable housing is defined by families earning 80% or less of the Area Median Income (AMI) by geographic location.  AMI is defined by geography on an annual basis by the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).  For the Syracuse Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA), the 2023 AMI for a family of four is $93,300.  This figure is the point at which 50% of similar sized households earn more and 50% of households earn less.  The AMI increases or decreases based on household size as well as geographic location.   In the Syracuse MSA, a family meets the criteria for affordable housing programs if they earn $74,650 or less, which, is 80% of AMI.  Affordable housing eligibility covers everything in between $0-$74,650 for a family of four in Syracuse. That is a very wide spectrum! Going forward, I will use figures that only contemplate our theoretical family of four.

Let us examine how affordable housing works in our most visible housing programs from above: the Section 8 Voucher Program, Public Housing, and the Low Income Housing Tax Credit. If the family earns 80% or less of AMI, they are eligible to receive a Section 8 Voucher and/or have eligibility for public housing. However, both are in high demand and a family may wait 5-10 years to receive the voucher or secure a public housing unit.  A Section 8 Voucher allows a family to usually pay 30% of their income towards rent and utilities and the subsidy from the government pays the remainder.  The Section 8 Voucher is flexible and can be utilized by a family with no income all the way up to the limit of $74,650. Section 8 is a good deal for landlords because they are typically guaranteed at least 70% of their rent. If family income exceeds the 80% AMI threshold, they no longer receive the benefits of Section 8. Locally, the Syracuse Housing Authority will pay a contract rent (determined by a variety of factors established by HUD) to a landlord of a 3-bedroom apartment at a rate of approximately $1,325 per month.  If the rent is greater than $1,325 per month, the tenant has to cover the difference, which will then make their housing costs greater than 30% of their income.

Similar to the Section 8 Voucher Program, in Public Housing, households pay approximately 30% of their income towards rent and utilities.  If the family income increases, so does the rent.  Once a family moves into public housing, they may remain there as long as they are tenants in good standing regardless of their income, which is a safety blanket for residents.  When residents surpass the 80% AMI threshold, the public housing agency may charge a market rent with no subsidy.

The last housing program, the Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC), was created in 1986 from the Reagan tax reforms.  LIHTC is housed federally in the IRS and administered at the state level by housing finance agencies and not HUD.  Succinctly, LIHTC is a public private partnership that provides private and not-for-profit developers tax credits in exchange for developing, building, and maintaining affordable rental housing.  Unlike Section 8 and public housing, LIHTC typically caps initial eligibility at 60% AMI, which equates to $55,980 for a family of four in Syracuse. In addition, most LIHTC developments have units that serve AMIs that range between 30%-60% AMI, and potentially even some middle-income (90% AMI) or market units (known as a mixed-income community).  In Syracuse for the family of four, a 30% AMI is $28,000 and a 50% AMI is $46,650.  The rent is set based on income tiers.  For example, three identical 3-bedroom units in a given development may have three different rent levels as illustrated below.

Unit Size AMI% Target Rent Income Required to Afford
3BR 30% $502 $20,080
3BR 50% $850 $41,080
3BR 60% $1,050 $49,080

 

All of these rents, especially at 30% & 50% AMI, are significantly below market rate apartment costs locally for a 3-bedroom apartment and almost always of higher quality because of funding program inspection protocol and requirements to maintain physical conditions.  Like public housing, once a family moves into LIHTC housing, they may remain (with an exception being households composed of all full-time students with no qualifying exemption), but their rent will increase to match what the family can afford.

According to census data and information on CNY Vitals, nearly 40,000 residents in Syracuse live below the poverty line.  Recent census data suggests that 51% of residents of the city of Syracuse pay more than 30% of their income on housing with 31% paying more than half of their income!  There is no silver bullet to solving the affordable housing crisis, but one thing is clear:  We need MORE quality housing, everywhere.  Poverty is not a Syracuse problem alone; it is in every corner of our community – urban, suburban and rural.  In the past year, while County Executive Ryan McMahon touts the coming of Micron, he quickly follows up with the need for communities to build more housing units of all types from market rate to affordable and from family to senior.

Addressing affordable housing is admittedly more complex than anyone wishes, but I hope your takeaway is that it is applicable to a wide swath of our local population. Before you read this article, would you believe that a family earning nearly $75,000 is eligible for affordable housing programs?  We need to serve all incomes to ensure individuals and families have safe, decent, affordable housing in their community of choice.

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Understanding how scarcity, poverty, health outcomes, and equality relate, and what we can do to improve them in Central New York

Guest Article: Jared Duggal, senior, Fayetteville Manlius High School
View Findings of Jared’s Research Project

Poverty is pervasive in America’s cities, and this is particularly true in Central New York. While our biggest cities’ challenges are often in the national spotlight, America’s small and midsize cities are home to more people, and their health disparities receive far less attention.

These health disparities are often driven by social determinants, those non-medical factors like income inequality, rent burden, and poverty that can influence health.

It is well established that higher poverty levels are associated with lower life expectancy, but several aspects of this relationship and the association of social determinants remain unclear. Although we know countries with a high poverty level have a lower life expectancy, the relationship is less clear when we look at the extent that gaps in life expectancy vary at the local city level. In addition, there is still debate on the importance of factors such as inequality, economic and social stress and how they relate.

With these questions unanswered, a research study was undertaken to evaluate how scarcity, poverty, health outcomes and equality relate and to determine what we can do in Central New York to improve them.

Data from publicly available databases including the US Census Bureau were utilized to create datasets of city poverty rates, life expectancy and 16 measured social determinants including number of households with a broadband connection, population that has completed high school, income inequality index, housing with potential lead risk, limited access to healthy foods and neighborhood racial/ethnic segregation.

A matching algorithm was then created that compared small/mid-sized US cities with the 25 highest and the 25 lowest poverty rates in order to help city leaders understand how poverty and health disparities in their communities are driven by social factors and allow comparison with demographically similar cities to guide future policy interventions.

The results were surprising:

  • Life expectancy is statistically different depending on if you live in a US small to medium sized city that has high poverty compared to those that are in the low poverty group.
  • Comparison of social determinants between cities in the high and low poverty groups also demonstrated significant differences in almost all the measured variables.
  • Increased poverty rates were strongly correlated with increased smoking rates, excessive rent burden, credit insecurity, and neighborhood racial segregation.
  • Increased poverty rates were strongly correlated with decreased high school completion rate, household access to broadband connection, and the income inequality index score (the lower the index score the more unequal the income distribution)

The paired matching algorithm successfully paired similar cities from the high and low poverty groups, including for cities in Upstate New York. The matching algorithm will help city leaders leverage policy and program approaches targeting poverty that will also advance health.

Recent efforts by the City of Syracuse to offer free, high-speed and secure Internet service for hundreds of low-income residents is a step in the right direction to addressing one of the social determinants of poverty. Understanding that poverty is a national emergency with implications to the longevity and health of all Americans is crucial. When an approach to addressing the social determinants of health has proven successful in a city of the same population demographic type, solutions can be found to facilitate smarter investment strategies.

References

  • Braveman, P., Gottlieb, L., The Social Determinants of Health. Public Health Rep. 2014 Jan-Feb; 129: 19–31.
  • Department of Population Health, NYU Langone Health. City Health Dashboard.
  • United States Census Bureau.
  • Duggal, J. Utilizing large sociological data sets and the development of a novel matching algorithm to understand the relationship between poverty, social determinants and health outcomes in small to mid-sized US cities.
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New CNY Vitals Section Disaggregates Local Data by Race

The Central New York Community Foundation has added data related to racial inequities to its state-of-the-community website, CNY Vitals (cnyvitals.org). Data points related to civic participation, education, wealth accumulation, well-being, employment and income are disaggregated by race to advance an understanding of how different groups are differently situated in Central New York.

“There is something fundamental about being and feeling ‘seen,’” said Frank Ridzi, vice president of community investment at the Community Foundation. “Without an understanding of how and why local residents experience life differently across racial and ethnic populations, decisions on governmental policies, funding and institutional practices could be made that impact their well-being without the full picture.”

Using interactive visualizations, CNY Vitals tracks data points and monitors trends on issues related to the economy, housing, health, demographics, poverty and education in Onondaga, Madison, Cayuga, Cortland and Oswego counties. The statistics are pulled from a variety of sources including the US Census Bureau, US Department of Labor and New York State Education Department.

The Community Foundation states it would like to see the new measurements used to prompt discussions among community members, leaders and organizations. By informing residents, it hopes to help target resources and investments and monitor the impact of collective efforts – such as city-wide childhood lead poisoning prevention work – toward breaking down elements of structural racism that have led to the disparities presented.

“The outcomes of systemic racism are not accidental,” said Frank Ridzi, vice president of community investment at the Community Foundation. “Decades of public and private policies pertaining to residential development, financial lending and transportation planning have led to poor outcomes for our neighbors of color. Until we are all made aware of and address these inequities, structural racism will continue to undermine our efforts to improve literacy and education rates, increase positive health outcomes and break down the detrimental cycle of generational poverty.”

Each visualization is accompanied by an analysis explaining how the facts relate to residents and the region’s prosperity. Visitors can download the raw data for each indicator in a variety of formats or connect it to programs using live APIs. The visualizations can also be embedded in outside websites or shared on social media to spur discussion. Visitors to the site will find news announcements about local trends, stories from members of the community and ideas on how they can do their part.

The new racial equity data is also available on the specialized arm called CNY Vitals Pro, a more in-depth site designed for grant writers, researchers, community organizers and data professionals. It allows users to drill down into statistics by county, town, city, zip code or census tract and compare them at the local, state or national level.

View racial equity section on CNY Vitals.

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Housing and Homeless Coalition Releases Report on State of Homelessness in CNY

Guest Article: Megan Stuart, Director of Housing & Homeless Coalition, United Way of Central New York

Photo Credit: A Tiny Home for Good

The Housing & Homeless Coalition of Central New York (HHC) is a network of organizations committed to ending homelessness and housing vulnerability in Central New York. Each year, the HHC conducts its Point in Time count, a census of all people experiencing homelessness in our three-county region which includes Onondaga, Cayuga, and Oswego counties. This effort includes data collected in the Homeless Management Information System database and a full canvas of our geographic region. Over 100 volunteers go out on one night in January to ensure that we are getting the most accurate and complete count of people experiencing homelessness. Our volunteers also canvas soup kitchens and day centers asking where people are staying.

This count has demonstrated that our community was making progress in ending homelessness. Prior to the pandemic, our community was seeing decreases in homelessness year over year, resulting in a 25% decrease from 2015 to 2020.[1]

But now, homelessness is on the rise. From the count in 2022 to the count in 2023, there has been a 30% increase in overall homelessness, totaling over 800 people staying in emergency shelters or places not meant for human habitation on a given night. This number is higher than any count we’ve had since 2015.

These increases are particularly affecting families, as the three-county region has had a 41% increase in families with minor children experiencing homelessness, with a majority of these families never facing homelessness in the past. 75% of households who entered homelessness last year, did so for the first time. Homelessness has adverse effects on health outcomes, educational outcomes for children, and even affects life expectancy, at an average of 20 years less than people who are housed.[2]

The report also identified the following trends in homelessness:

  • The number of people experiencing unsheltered homelessness increased by 190% (from 10 people in 2022 to 29 people in 2023)
  • 39% of children who experience homelessness are under the age of 5
  • Unaccompanied youth (age 12 to 24) increased 32%, from 42 to 62 youth in emergency shelter.

Overall, the Point in Time count demonstrated that people are at higher risk of homelessness than any other time in recent history. Though the community is seeing drastic increases in people being unhoused, the good news is we know what works- re-housing people as quickly as possible into quality, affordable housing, and stabilizing families with wrap around services. Each year, programs providing subsidies and case management services see over a 95% success rate in housing retention.[3] There is now a demonstrated need for the expansion of essential programs to assist in creating avenues to permanent housing. Now more than ever, it is critical to the health of the community that our neighbors have a safe place to live as it is the key to ending homelessness.

To read the entire report, visit the HHC’s website at hhccny.org

 

[1] All data is taken from the HHC’s Point in Time Counts unless otherwise specified.

[2] https://www.usich.gov/news/remembering-those-we-have-lost-and-the-work-that-remains/

[3] HHC’s System Performance Measures, 2022, hhccny.org

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Barriers to Access for Deaf New Americans

Guest Article: Monu Chhetri, Founder, CEO, Deaf New Americans Advocacy

It is extremely important for Deaf New Americans to learn about and work to end lead poisoning in our community. I grew up in refugee camps where there was no lead paint, and where we use natural fibers and materials from the land.

I have been here in Syracuse for over 12 years, and I just learned about lead in the paint and the possibility of lead poisoning. I had no idea that we could be victims of this until I learned, about it from our friend Qiana Williams of CNY Community Foundation who invited us to their sponsored participatory budgeting project with the goal to end lead poisoning. Our board members from the Deaf New Americans Advocacy (DNAA) attended, and we became very aware of the danger of lead to ourselves and our children. We learned that it’s not just in the paint that’s on surfaces, it’s in dust that comes from daily opening and closing of windows and doors. We became alarmed and so concerned, especially because of the young children in our community. We learned that our babies born outside of the US and even born here needed to have screenings done. We understand that lead can damage their developing brains. It is scary.

DNAA became very involved in the participatory budgeting process, where all the participants had an opportunity to express their ideas for how we could educate the community and work to end lead poisoning. After listening to presentations and ideas from participants, we were able to vote on ideas. It was a very exciting and engaging democratic process. We feel it was a good way as a small group to work to affect change community wide. We felt listened to, and I feel like it was a very useful process and experience. We hope that we can make this change together.

There are many barriers to accessing language and communication for the Deaf New American community. It’s a problem for Deaf people. We need to learn all this important information so we can protect ourselves and our families, but if we are not included or the community forgets, then Deaf people are usually the last to know what’s going on. This makes us at risk, endangered. When the community remembers to invite the Deaf New Americans advocates to come to public events such as this one, we can learn about any dangers that are exposed to the community and give residents access to the information using interpreters and accessible information.

Currently, lead is very serious, so we the DNAA hope to receive funding to provide education using sign language interpreters and to record video announcements. We can do local interventions by going one on one to families in their homes with our knowledge and use of culturally aware communication skills. It is our prayer that our community stays safe and thrives, and we are grateful that the Community Foundation has shown how they support us.

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Taxing Barriers: Using Data to Overcome Predatory Tactics, Maximize Refunds, and Further Free Tax Preparation for all

Guest Article: Todd Goehle, Community Engagement Director, PEACE, Inc.

Albert Einstein quipped, “The hardest thing in the world to understand is the income tax.” If a Nobel Prize Winning Physicist can’t understand it, what are the rest of us supposed to do? Especially when we have to organize financial documents and navigate unfamiliar tax terms? The stakes are even higher for Central New York’s residents of under-resourced neighborhoods and those who have been historically excluded from opportunity. Where can one turn when legacies of discrimination (i.e. racism, ageism, ableism, and more) and neighborhood disinvestment continue to limit one’s access to a full tax return and stabilizing if not potentially transforming capital?

One critical resource is the free tax preparation service offered through the IRS Initiative named VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Grant Program). In Central New York, VITA partners with the CNY CA$H Coalition, a United Way of CNY Initiative, to “help low- to moderate-income individuals, persons with disabilities, elderly people, and limited English speakers file their taxes each year.” This year, any household making under $60,000 a year will be eligible for the service. To ensure confidentiality and quality, all VITA volunteers must pass a series of certification exams. As a CNY CA$H Coalition member, PEACE, Inc. offers the largest local location and one of only a handful of year-round, Free Tax Preparation sites in the state. Last year alone, more than 1600 households with an average annual income of $25,000 took advantage of PEACE, Inc.’s program.

VITA sites not only help underserved clients overcome the average $220 tax preparation fee and earn a full refund; They also combat predatory tactics such as refund anticipation loans and checks that impose excessive fees and take money out of the pockets of people working hard to make ends meet. For example, this past summer, a mother of two came to PEACE, Inc.’s Free Tax Prep Program. Earlier in the year, a national tax service prepared the mother’s taxes for the year. The firm charged $680 for the service and a loan that advanced her tax return. The story worsens. Like many during COVID, the woman required assistance e-filing her 2020 taxes. The firm again looked to charge $680, yet this time requiring an upfront fee to prepare any back tax return. If not for PEACE, Inc., the woman would have paid a total of $1360 in fees, more than 15% of the mother’s taxable income for the year.

To raise awareness about such practices and the additional Child and Earned Income Tax Credits (CTC, EITC) available to filers in 2022, the Central New York Community Foundation (CNYCF) and the EITC Funders Network partnered to fund a number of local organizations. CNYVitals previously discussed the social media efforts pursued by Layla’s Got You. PEACE, Inc. sought to recruit additional volunteers and to target traditionally underserved residents in high poverty neighborhoods of Syracuse. Data proved critical in 4 respects. First, PEACE, Inc.’s COVID-19 Community Needs Assessment and Chronicle from June 2020 identified the need for unrestricted capital in neighborhoods, where Black, Latino, Asian/Pacific Islander and Native American people live. These same neighborhoods were disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Second, census tract and IRS data showed those places where residents had yet to claim or historically don’t take advantage of tax credits. Third, members of PEACE, Inc. used CNYCF Life Needs Assessment Survey Data to identify those agencies with clients who would be good fits for the program because they responded that they “didn’t have enough money to meet their needs and to pay their bills.” Finally, analyzing internal data further justified PEACE, Inc.’s move to a year-round site. As revealed above, greater outreach yielded many new clients who required past tax season preparation or amendments in the offseason but lacked the funds to meet IRS deadlines.

Embracing a data-driven approach, PEACE, Inc.’s Free Tax Prep Program returned nearly 3 million dollars to the Central New York economy and an average tax return of nearly $2200. Perhaps more importantly, the program served far more low-income households than in previous years. Clients themselves shared how a quality return brought short-term stability and long-term economic mobility for their households. For example:

-KM, a mother of four, earned $14,879 at her job. Because of the stimulus and tax credits, KM received a tax return of $19,272. As KM explained, “the money will help me and my family get a new car, daycare to work more hours, and the supplies that the baby needs right now.”

-RT, a mother of 3, earned just over $25,000 at her job. Thanks to tax credits, RT earned a refund nearly equal her income, $18,374. As she shared, “I will be putting this refund on a new home for me and my kids. So I’m very thankful and more so excited that this year, I worked so hard and my family can use this to go towards a new home.”

With a new tax season upon us, the CA$H Coalition and PEACE, Inc. are seeking volunteer tax preparers, administrative assistants, interpreters, and greeters/screeners. Hours are flexible. Training is free. Want to make a true impact in our community? To learn more, visit https://www.peace-caa.org/programs/taxes/ or call 315.634.3756 today!

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Report Points to Child Care Crisis in Onondaga County

Onondaga County has a big problem, and it’s impacting our littlest residents: children under the age of five. There are approximately 12,000 children in our community who need child care but cannot access it because there simply isn’t room for them.

High quality child care is important – we know that access to high quality early child care helps build foundational skills that are necessary for success in school, career, personal health, and life. Comprehensive studies suggest that high quality early child care leads to greater school readiness, grade retention, academic achievement, high school completion, family stability, employment, higher income, home ownership, reduced health care expenses, and less crime. (CITE 1). We also know that, due to child care breakdowns, businesses in the United States suffer an economic loss of $12.7 billion each year. (CITE 2).

The Early Childhood Alliance (ECA) was launched in 2015 with the bold vision that all children in Onondaga County are healthy, thriving, and ready to succeed in school and in life. Composed of a diverse cross-section of community stakeholders impacting the county’s early childhood system, the ECA is committed to advancing bold solutions that are evidenced-based and grounded in family and community voice. In the summer of 2021, as we moved into the immediate aftermath of the COVID pandemic, the ECA felt it important to take a step back and really focus on the accessibility of child care in our community. A year of research later, the ECA has released its new study entitled, The Child Care Landscape in Onondaga County: A Supply & Demand Analysis. This study dives deep into how families can (or can’t) access child care in our community. We encourage you to read the whole thing, but here are a few key points for you to consider:

  • We only have enough licensed and regulated child care to meet 44% of the demand. Between 2019 and 2021, the number of child care slots in Onondaga County dropped by 27%. In 2019, there was a supply gap of 8,574 child care slots and in 2021, that gap grew to 12,123.
    • Families shared their lived experience of attempting to access child care: “I was told, ‘We’ll put you on the waitlist,’ but she’ll be in pre-K before a spot opens up in the daycare rooms.”
  • Child care is expensive: in Onondaga County, the average cost of care for a four-person family with an infant and a toddler is $24,336. For a two-parent family earning the median income of $61,359, this means that 40% of household income would be spent on child care.
  • Child care assistance can help many families pay for the cost of care, but families are not taking advantage of this resource. In the last 6 years, the number of families who have utilized child care assistance has decreased 59%. Right now, only 19% of the families that are eligible for subsidized care are taking advantage of this public benefit.

You can read the full report to learn more about the state of child care in Onondaga County.

Citation 1: Heckman, J. J. (2012). Invest in early childhood development: Reduce deficits, strengthen the economy. The Heckman Equation, 7, 1-2.
Citation 2: Child Care Aware of America; The US and the High Price of Child Care, 2019 Report.

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LAYLA’S GOT YOU ASSISTS IN EITC EDUCATION

EITC photo

Tax season is dreaded by many. Oftentimes, people find that it’s overly complex and tedious to get finances organized to complete the near never-ending forms. But for some, there is the opportunity to collect needed funds by properly completing the process.

The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is a refundable tax credit geared towards middle, and low-income adults, oftentimes with children. However, many individuals who are eligible to file inevitably don’t, as they assume they do not qualify. This results in unused credit that could have improved the lives of thousands of families.

Layla’s Got You, an organization dedicated to using social media to connect Syracuse residents with women’s health information, partnered with the Central New York Community Foundation to inform and assist filers by spearheading a comprehensive social media campaign. Using the talents of its young ambassadors, the organization has been able to provide accessible information about the EITC and potential tax refunds to individuals that may qualify.

Qiana Williams, a program officer at the Central New York Community Foundation, emphasized the importance of young voices.

“It was very exciting to be a part of this collaboration to utilize young, trusted ambassadors to carry a message forward to the community,” she said. “When the opportunity to partner with Layla’s Got You arose, we felt it would be an effective way to identify young people who could help efficiently get out information about the EITC.”

Jayah Pierce, a 19 year old who has been an ambassador for Layla’s Got You since she was 14, emphasized the impact that finances and other factors play into the organization’s primary mission. “Financials really do impact the way you live, what you can do and where you’re limited,” she said. “So we really thought, you know, that young people could benefit from having that money back and by getting their taxes in on time and not having to go through owing.”

The cornerstone of the social media campaign was the ambassadors who created the EITC content itself. They used commonly under-utilized social media platforms such as TikTok to spread awareness via messaging that catered to a young audience. Instead of using complex financial language, they opted for simple explanations and comprehensive resource sharing. By hearing from likeminded peers, EITC became a tangible reality for many, rather than an unknown program.

Hearing information from ambassadors that could connect to their fellow neighbors reduced the likelihood that filers would scroll past information, and instead ask questions.

“We explained to social media users that you might get money back, like we’re young. So if you can get up to $1,500 back, get your bag, like go get your money,” said Pierce. “We’re the same age, [and] it really works out because, you know, if you see something that looks like a scam, you scroll, but if you see your best friend saying it, you’re more likely to take it seriously and apply.”

The EITC program directly benefitted several individuals and families across the Central New York area, often with life-changing effects. For example, Layla’s Got You has worked with a young mother that received over $18,000 in tax refunds. She makes just over $25,000 per year at her job.

“This year’s income tax is great,” she said. “I will be putting this tax refund toward a new home for me and my kids. So I’m very thankful and so excited that this year my hard work will benefit my family in such a big way.”

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