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Politics

Why you should care about Binghamton's new rental rules

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Binghamton residents are fighting back against dilapidated housing.

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Planning commission meetings are usually dry stuff. However, once in a while the changes buried in the planner-speak can mean big things.

We thought we'd bring you some longer excerpts from Monday night's planning hearing in Binghamton, so citizens can explain what's at stake in their own words.

The initiatives put together by the West Side Neighborhood Project include:

  • A proposed city registry for rental properties;
  • A "co-tenancy" permitting process to allow landlords to increase the number of student who can legally share a home;
  • A beautification campaign for the "Tree Street District," intended in part to make the district more student-friendly.

Keeping up appearances

The plan focuses overall on the upkeep of homes. Some landlords call the plan “more regulation.” Some West Side homeowners, like Christopher George, think it doesn’t go far enough to make landlords and their tenants behave like good neighbors:

[This plan] doesn’t have a lot of teeth as far as what we really need to have accomplished on the West Side… One segment is lagging behind. So again while a lot of those homeowners are upgrading their construction, taking care of their properties, keeping things clean. On the other side of that, as we register these landlords, I don’t see a lot of documentation that says how we’re going to enforce that. So really that’s a big number one thing: What [will] address the blight?

“Who’s going to buy that house?”

The plan lays out a vision for much of the city that discourages density. According to the document presented to the planning commission, the co-tenancy permits are supposed to discourage splitting up single-family homes into apartments. But realtor Francie Cook, who testified wielding a sheaf of papers detailing all of the 4-or-morebedroom homes for sale for over the past year, says the rules still don’t help sell houses find  buyers in the current market:

There’s one property in here …it’s over 4,000 square feet, it’s got a four car garage attached to it. And nobody’s buying it …Who’s going to buy that house? Who’s going to buy a 4,000 square foot, ten bedroom house, with a four car detached garage in an area where you can’t do anything with it with tenants.

Cook and others also pointed out the plan singles out one district, over others in Binghamton.

That’s led to high tensions over the boundaries of the Tree Street District. Some speakers charged that the district is a bid to net a larger share of the lucrative student rental market.

“This ghetto mentality”

Ellie Farfaglia’s comments summed up that concern. She is the President of the Landlords Association of Broome County:

The only way that north of Main Street is going to turn around is to bring good students back and good landlords back. And that will not happen until something like [Tree Street] district comes in and changes things around ...We’ve got to get rid of this ghetto mentality. And no good landlord or investor will come in until there’s a turnaround there.

Words of caution

Kymel Yard, a senior at Binghamton University (one of relatively few students present), had the last word. He took the opportunity to point out the existing proposals for the Tree Street District could improve the neighborhood, but force out low-income renters.

Binghamton is a very complex city. There's a lot of different kinds of people in not a very large area. So I can see why there’s problems and issues, however what I think we all need to sit here and think about is being responsible adults. Both students and landlords … because honestly, you have a situation here that you have to look at and see what's best for anyone. And finding that happy medium can be difficult. … I think the Tree Streets Program sounds like a very good idea, but at the same time we have to realize that a lot of what we're seeing in terms of the property values and all that, that a lot of the students who live in these houses can't necessarily afford [rent increases], much like [there are] a lot of people who aren't students, who won’t leave, who will be still in the city, who won’t necessarily be able to afford [rent increases]. Because I’m from New York City and I’ve seen how a lot of the changes to make a better, safer environment push out a lot of people who really live in economically hard times.

Residents will have more opportunities to make their case to the city. More hearings are expected before the proposals become legislations before City Council, possibly by early fall. The City of Binghamton’s website posts hearing dates in advance.

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