Introduction

Our homes, and the neighborhood communities we reside within, can give us safety and comfort. They are the places where we can connect with friends, neighbors and loved ones. They can create and nurture a sense of belonging.

Housing Icon

The Central New York region is rich with history, dating back to a population boom during the industrial revolution. But along with that comes an aging housing stock that in many ways provides substandard living conditions for today’s residents. In Syracuse, 47 percent of the current housing stock was constructed in 1939 or earlier. Of the 55,635 households within the city, 25 percent suffer from at least one severe housing problem such as a lack of complete kitchen or plumbing facilities.

Lead paint was banned in 1978, but more than 90 percent of occupied homes in the city of Syracuse were built before that regulation was enacted. As a result, the Onondaga County Health Department reports 10.4 percent of Syracuse children tested in 2019 were shown to have elevated lead levels.

Central New York boasts an affordable cost of living, but there are still great disparities in terms of who in our community can afford to own a home.  While home ownership is not necessarily for everyone, it can instill a sense of pride, which critically impacts the quality of life in our neighborhoods — including our health, security, education and progress as a community.

As we examine our indicators and think about the future growth and development of our region, it is imperative that we consider the availability of safe, affordable housing in both our urban and rural communities.

Home Ownership

Housing Tenure Over Time - Onondaga County

Housing Tenure Over Time - Madison County

Housing Tenure Over Time - Oswego County

Housing Tenure Over Time - Cayuga County

Housing Tenure Over Time - Cortland County

Housing Tenure Over Time - Syracuse

Housing Tenure Over Time - Oneida

Housing Tenure Over Time - Oswego City

Housing Tenure Over Time - Auburn

Housing Tenure Over Time - Cortland City

Let's Break It Down

In the region’s urban centers, renters outnumber homeowners.

However, in all five counties of the Central New York region, homeowners significantly outnumber renters. For example, in Onondaga County there were approximately 120,000 owner-occupied units and 65,000 renter-occupied units in 2018, whereas in Syracuse renter-occupied units outnumbered owner-occupied units by more than 12,000. Oneida had slightly more owner-occupied units than renter-occupied units, and the cities of Auburn, Cortland and Oswego had approximately equal numbers of units occupied by homeowners and renters.

In Central New York, areas with the highest rates of renters also have the lowest median incomes. Conversely, areas with higher median incomes had higher rates of ownership. Housing values also vary widely. In Onondaga County, suburban communities like Fayetteville, Manlius, Liverpool and Marcellus had median housing values between about $137,000 and $204,000 in 2019. The median home values in the cities of Syracuse and Auburn were about $94,000 and $102,000, respectively.

Why Does It Matter?

Homeownership is low in CNY cities.

Communities with higher rates of homeownership are more likely to thrive. Owning a home allows people to build wealth, take out loans for higher education, benefit from tax deductions and enjoy a sense of community. Neighborhoods with higher rates of homeownership also have increased property values, meaning more money is available for schools, infrastructure and public services.

Most Americans build wealth through homeownership. According to Market Watch, in 2016 the median net worth of an American homeowner was $231,400, while a renter’s was $5,200.

Many residents of our local cities have chosen rental housing rather than homeownership. While homeownership is not necessarily for everyone, it can instill a sense of pride, which encourages area beautification, neighborhood watch programs and decreased resident turnover. All of these factors can critically impact the quality of life in our communities, including our health, security and education.

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. “Residential security maps” created out of the Act for the purpose of identifying areas desirable for real estate lending, deemed certain neighborhoods too financially risky to invest home loans in – in large part due to their racial or ethnic makeup. This allowed poverty, especially that of minority populations, to persist. 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.

Homeownership is low in CNY cities.

A Local Story

Ensuring a Safe & Secure Home

When Pearl Baldwin purchased her house in Syracuse, she looked forward to a safe, comfortable place to live with her grandson. She never imagined that her new home could pose a risk to their lives.

On the surface, the house appeared normal; however, over time, Pearl began to uncover dangerous features, causing her great concern.

During the cold months, her roof leaked onto the sidewalk causing a slippery walkway. The foundation began to deteriorate, allowing rodents to come into her home. Pearl tried her best to keep everything protected and clean for the safety of her 13-year-old grandson, but realized she was spending a lot of time, money and energy trying to make repairs.

Nearly six million households live with moderate to severe home health and safety hazards, which place them at risk for illness and injuries including asthma, lead poisoning, slips and falls, and respiratory illnesses. An unhealthy home can affect many aspects of a person’s life, leading to health care needs, absentee work days and children missing school. 

Pearl’s wishes for a safe home came true when she learned about the Green and Healthy Homes Initiative Greater Syracuse (GHHIGS) [link: https://www.homehq.org/ghhi/], a collaborative effort that helps to improve the health, safety and energy efficiency of low- and moderate-income homes in the City of Syracuse. The hazardous condition of Pearl’s home made her a suitable candidate to receive assistance.

GHHIGS community partners worked to completely replace and properly seal the foundation and siding on her house, ensuring no unwanted animals could enter. Workers also installed a new roof and protected power lines to eliminate any faulty or dangerous wires. Pearl’s home also received new storm doors.

“All the long hours I worked trying to fix up my home and make ends meet was taking away from the time I had to spend with my grandson,” Pearl said. “I felt like my prayers were answered when I found out about Green and Healthy Homes because now I can spend more time at home with my family, and feel safe doing so.”

What You Can Do

Give input and get involved.

Whether you’re an experienced volunteer, an activist, a student, working professional, or a stay-at-home parent, there are roles both big and small that you can play to shape the future of the region.

See Additional Opportunities View All
Volunteer
Revitalize neighborhoods with Home HeadQuarters Learn More »
Donate
Help sustain renter’s rights through CNY Fair Housing Learn More »
Take Action
Join a community action group Learn More »
Civic Engagement
Join a board Learn More »

Vacancies

Occupancy Status - Onondaga County

Occupancy Status - Madison County

Occupancy Status - Oswego County

Occupancy Status - Cayuga County

Occupancy Status - Cortland County

Occupancy Status - Syracuse

Occupancy Status - Oneida

Occupancy Status - Oswego City

Occupancy Status - Auburn

Occupancy Status - Cortland City

Let's Break It Down

More than half of Onondaga County’s vacant homes are in Syracuse.

While occupancy status has remained relatively constant in Central New York between 2009 and 2018, there was a small increase in the number of vacant units in all five counties. “Vacant units” are defined as unoccupied homes with an owner, whereas “abandoned units” are homes with no resident or owner. The most populated municipalities hold the greatest number of vacancies in each county. During 2018 in Onondaga County, there were a total of 21,943 vacant units; 11,950 of them were within the city of Syracuse. Madison, Oswego and Cayuga counties have all seen steady rises in the number of vacancies since 2009.

Vacant properties become a greater issue as population decreases. In 1950, approximately 220,000 people lived in the city of Syracuse. Today, that number has dropped to around 142,000. In contrast, all five counties in Central New York experienced growth in population numbers during that period. Onondaga County’s population grew from 341,719 to 462,872 between 1950 and 2019, according to the United States Census. While the population of New York State is projected to continue increasing, the populations of Central New York counties are projected to decrease. Cornell University’s Program on Applied Demographics projects declines in all five counties that range from 2.2 to 8 percent between 2020 and 2040. This opens our region up to an increased risk of home vacancies.

Why Does It Matter?

Housing vacancies lead to neighborhood blight and disinvestment.

Stable, sufficient housing can lower crime within a neighborhood. On the other hand, a lack of safe, reliable, and efficient housing can have the opposite effect on a neighborhood or community, causing neighborhoods to deteriorate as residents leave for other areas and businesses to decline or exit.

Vacant and abandoned properties can lead to higher crime rates, sharply decreasing property values and increasing municipal costs according to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development. Vacant properties also pose health risks; for example, many deteriorating older homes cause lead paint to enter the surrounding soil.

Vacant residential and commercial properties tend to portray a community suffering economically, thus leading to community disinvestment. Disinvestment furthers flight to the suburbs and population decreases in urban centers. The economic recession of 2008, along with the loss of industries and population in rust belt regions like Central New York, have led to an increase in vacant properties in our region, especially Syracuse, over the past fifty years. This can only negatively affect the quality of life for residents who have stayed behind in these neighborhoods.

According to the United States Census, in 2018 Syracuse ranked 24 out of the largest 75 metropolitan statistical areas in the country for gross vacancy with a rate of 10.8 percent. Local strides have been made in recent years to help reduce the negative effects of vacant housing. Organizations such as the Greater Syracuse Land Bank, launched in 2012, return vacant, abandoned and tax-delinquent properties back to productive use, helping strengthen the local economy and reinvest in our urban core.

Housing vacancies lead to neighborhood blight and disinvestment.

A Local Story

From Vacant Homes to New Living Spaces

Nearing age 50 with two grown boys, Denise Welch was perfectly content renting an apartment. The boys were out of the house and she was comfortable with never owning her own home. That all changed when her landlord informed her that rent would be increasing to the going market rate and they were not renewing existing leases. She quickly moved into another apartment, for which she was forced to pay more than $1,000 per month.

“Rents everywhere were high and I just thought, this isn’t going to work for me,” she said.

One month after she moved into her new apartment, she secured a realtor who told her to contact Home HeadQuarters (HHQ). She enrolled in a HomeBuyer Education Course, signed up for a First Home Club at a local credit union and was ready to enter the housing market.

“Well, the first thing I learned was to slow down,” Denise says with a laugh. “Then I learned so much about things to look for when shopping for a home. Like radon; I turned down house after house because of radon.”

Now, even Denise can’t believe that, in less than a year, she owns a fully-rehabilitated four bedroom home with a big yard and a front porch that her mother enjoys. The house was once vacant, serving as an eyesore in the Southside neighborhood. HHQ redeveloped the property to make it a safe, comfortable and attractive place to live.

Denise’s impeccably decorated house has won the approval of her sisters and all who visit. She has even secured a home improvement loan through HHQ to add a white fence, new driveway, and replace her sidewalks.

“The mortgage and the home improvement loan together are less than I would be paying in rent,” she says. “With this home, I am just in a place right now of never-ending joy.”

HHQ provides low-interest home improvement loans and grants, first mortgage financing and closing cost assistance, homeowner education and counseling, foreclosure prevention and real estate property development throughout Central New York.

"The mortgage and the home improvement loan together are less than I would be paying in rent," said Welch. "With this home, I am just in a place right now of never-ending joy."

What You Can Do

Give input and get involved.

Whether you’re an experienced volunteer, an activist, a student, working professional, or a stay-at-home parent, there are roles both big and small that you can play to shape the future of the region.

See Additional Opportunities View All
Volunteer
Help build or renovate houses through Habitat for Humanity Learn More »
Donate
Provide funding for housing renovations made by Syracuse Model Neighborhood Facility Learn More »
Take Action
Join a community action group Learn More »
Civic Engagement
Join a board Learn More »