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Binghamton holds hearing tonight on stricter rental housing rules

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University students graduate this month, but student housing is in Binghamton to stay.

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The West Side Neighborhood Project calls the City of Binghamton a "college town without a college."

Binghamton University's almost 12,000 undergraduates work in Vestal, but large numbers of students live and play - and spend their grocery money - in Binghamton.

Of course, with college students come town-gown conflicts.

Homeowners on the city's West Side have argued that rentals, particularly student housing, which is often owned by landlords from outside the area, contribute to blight and crime in residential neighborhoods.

Tonight those rentals will be under the microscrope as the city holds a hearing about proposed regulations about the condition and location of rental housing.

The rules were written by the West Side Neighborhood Project (WSNP), a citizens group that's been working with the city to enact recommendations made by a city-wide commission on housing [PDF].

That report noted that Binghamton has one of the lowest homeownership rates (43 percent) of any city or town in New York - a state that isn't known for high homeownership levels to begin with.

Alycia Harris, a founding member or the groups explains the proposals [PDF] are meant to add controls to a large rental housing market.

"People want to live in better neighborhoods, at all economic levels and all diversities, but how do you make that happen unless you put a little bit of control in there to make it walkable and safe?" says Harris.

The new initiatives include a city-wide registry of rental properties.

The rules would also require that landlords apply for a special permit to allow more than three unrelated people to live together (that's the current limit). That's as long as tenants share the kitchen and housekeeping - no hotplate in your room.

Some language in the initial housing commission report suggested that students are seen as the lesser of two evils:

Bringing in more educated people with good values will help force out and exclude an encroaching criminal element.

The report also suggested the creation of what was then called the "student overlay district," which would "also reduce the growing vacancies being experienced by landlords, which is forcing some of them to rent to less desirable tenants."

Harris served on the original housing commission,  but stresses that the West Side Neighborhood Project (WSNP) is a separate entity. She says the original language in the commission report came from having "a lot of people around the table."

The WSNP has named their pilot area the "Tree Street District."

They've also drawn up proposed design guidelines intended to improve the neighborhood's aesthetics and encourage businesses that they're hoping will serve residents and ramp up street life. So yoga studios and restaurants are in. Crematoria, car dealerships and pawn shops are out.

The hearing at City Hall at 6:30 tonight is the first public hearing on the recommended regulations. The WSNP expects high attendance, and is hoping the legislation with reach City Council by early fall.

Former WRVO/Central New York reporter for the Innovation Trail.
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