SENATORS URGE HUD SECRETARY TO MAKE SYRACUSE A NATIONAL MODEL FOR HOUSING TRANSFORMATION, RECONNECTING CNY DISADVANTAGED COMMUNITIES TO NEW ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITIES
As Central New York Prepares for I-81’s Redevelopment, NY’s Senators Call For $50 Million In Fed Funding From New Choice Neighborhoods Initiative Program To Revitalize Old 15th Ward Neighborhood, Bolster Over 1,500 Housing Units, Address Historic Inequities
Senators Say Any Plan For Equitable Infrastructure Must Include Affordable & Accessible Housing
Schumer, Gillibrand To HUD: Syracuse & I-81 Can Become A National Model For Housing Transformation In Reconnecting Communities Divided By Highways
Building on their tireless advocacy for Central New York & the redevelopment of I-81 into a community grid, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer and U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand today launched a major push to secure an additional $50 million in federal support for Syracuse’s transformation of the 15th Ward Neighborhood through the Choice Neighborhoods Initiative Program. In a letter to U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Marcia Fudge, the senators explained that funding would further reconnect the historically divided 15th Ward neighborhood and redevelop thousands of aging public housing units, providing access to new, affordable, energy-efficient housing and reconnecting residents to new economic opportunities.
“When Syracuse’s I-81 was built, it cut through the 15th Ward neighborhood, increasing air pollution, reducing property values, limiting opportunities for local businesses, and displacing thousands of residents. Now we have the opportunity to right these wrongs and reconnect this community to new opportunities with the redevelopment of I-81, and that must include improved access to safe, energy-efficient, affordable housing,” said Senator Schumer. “That is why I am calling on HUD to make a truly transformative investment in the New 15th Ward Neighborhood Transformation Plan, which will create more than 1,500 units of much-needed affordable housing. This community-led plan to redevelop the housing in the shadow of I-81 can revitalize downtown Syracuse, and I will keep fighting to get every dollar of federal support needed to help lay the foundation here in Central New York for a brighter, more equitable future for all residents.”
“For too long, I-81 has cut through the heart of Syracuse, displacing residents and businesses during its construction and polluting neighborhoods with a disproportionate impact on communities of color,” said Senator Gillibrand. “We now have a unique opportunity to right this historic injustice. The City of Syracuse and the Syracuse Housing Authority’s community-led plan would invest millions in these marginalized communities to reconnect and revitalize the city. I urge Secretary Fudge to give the City of Syracuse’s Choice Neighborhoods Implementation application the full consideration it deserves and I will keep fighting for a more equitable Syracuse.”
In their letter to Secretary Fudge, the lawmakers said that housing justice is a critical component of reconnecting this community to new opportunities as I-81 is redeveloped. The senators explained that the 15th Ward is a historic community that was negatively impacted by the construction of I-81 in the late 1950s. The construction resulted in the razing of homes, destruction of hundreds of Black-owned businesses, and the displacement of more than 1,000 African American households.
Now, the City of Syracuse and the Syracuse Housing Authority have put forward an $800 million revitalization plan for the Old 15th Ward. Schumer and Gillibrand said that this community-led effort is critical for achieving racial and economic justice for the communities that have been impacted by I-81. Specifically, the plan calls for the redevelopment of not one, but three public housing complexes, creating more than 1,500 units of much-needed mixed-income housing.
Schumer and Gillibrand have been vocal advocates for the redevelopment of Syracuse’s I-81. Last year, Schumer and Gillibrand brought Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg to Syracuse to visit I-81 and to push for the use of a local hire program to connect disadvantaged workers to construction jobs created by the I-81 project. A local hire program was eventually included in the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment & Jobs law, providing an opportunity for New York State to be one of the first users in the nation of the local hire program, utilizing the new authorities to provide local hire opportunities on the I-81 redevelopment. The transformation of I-81 in Syracuse could also benefit from several other programs included in the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment & Jobs law, including $11.5 billion for New York State in new highway funding, $7.5 billion in new funding for the Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) competitive grant program (formerly known as BUILD and TIGER), which I-81 will be eligible for. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs law also creates the Reconnecting Communities program, a first of its kind program dedicated to helping advance projects like transforming Syracuse’s I-81 into a community grid, investing a historic $1 billion in efforts such as construction, planning, and community engagement to expand economic opportunity and address environmental hazards like air pollution in communities across New York and the country. This new program was inspired by the Reconnecting Communities Act, which Schumer and Gillibrand led last year to provide federal investment to reconnect and revitalize areas that were harmed by the disruptive construction of highways through neighborhoods. President Biden included the Reconnecting Communities proposal in his American Jobs Plan, directly mentioning Syracuse’s I-81 as an example of a project that would aim to reconnect neighborhoods cut off by historic investments.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Choice Neighborhoods initiative supports the revitalization of communities through an emphasis on linking housing improvements with comprehensive social services and physical neighborhood improvements. Local leaders, residents, and stakeholders, such as public housing authorities, cities, schools, police, business owners, nonprofits, and private developers, come together to create and implement a plan that revitalizes distressed HUD-assisted housing and addresses the challenges in the surrounding neighborhood.
A copy of Schumer and Gillibrand’s joint letter to U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia L. Fudge appears below:
Dear Secretary Fudge:
We write to share our enthusiastic support of the City of Syracuse’s Choice Neighborhood Implementation (CNI) application submitted February 11, 2022 and its corresponding “Connecting the New 15th Ward Neighborhood Transformation Plan.” The requested funding will be used to redevelop aging public housing units in the shadow of Interstate 81 (I-81) into new energy-efficient, mixed-income housing, helping to further reconnect the neighborhood with large institutions, medical centers, universities, and downtown Syracuse.
The City of Syracuse and the Syracuse Housing Authority have embarked on a $800 million revitalization of the Old 15th Ward, which is a 27-block, 118-square-acre area that includes more than 1,037 public housing units. With one of the highest rates of concentrated poverty in the nation, the estimated median household income for the City of Syracuse is $38,276 with a poverty rate of 31%. The 15th Ward is a historic community that was decimated by the construction of I-81 in the late 1950s. The construction resulted in the razing of homes, destruction of hundreds of Black-owned businesses, and the displacement of more than 1,000 African American households. The City and the Syracuse Housing Authority are seeking $50 million in CNI funding to aid in this transformation of the New 15th Ward to begin to address these historic inequities.
We’ve worked closely with Secretary Buttigieg, the U.S. Department of Transportation, Governor Hochul, the New York State Department of Transportation, the City of Syracuse, and local community members to embark on the I-81 Viaduct Project which will deconstruct the elevated highway and replace it with a community grid. As you well know, any infrastructure plan is incomplete without a plan for affordable and accessible housing. With HUD’s support, we have a tremendous opportunity to take a thoughtful and reparative approach to reconnecting this community to opportunity as I-81 is redeveloped.
The City of Syracuse, the Syracuse Housing Authority, and several community organizations have coordinated on the development of a comprehensive $1.1 billion plan focused on investments in housing and neighborhood revitalization, with local residents at the heart of the strategy, which is proof of the community’s energy around this effort that the CNI funding could tap into for a truly transformative effort. This plan would build upon the already planned $1.9 billion investment in the infrastructure redevelopment as part of the I-81 Viaduct Project.
One unique component of the New 15th Ward Transformation Plan is that it calls for the redevelopment of not one, but three public housing complexes, creating more than 1,500 units of much-needed mixed-income housing. The current elevated highway bifurcates the Pioneer Homes public housing complex, which necessitates close coordination between the City, the Syracuse Housing Authority, and the State on later phases of the Pioneer Homes redevelopment. By coordinating the housing development with the highway deconstruction in this way, the project team can mitigate the impact to residents of the planned highway work, instead ensuring that the redevelopment achieves the ultimate goal of righting injustices of the past and connecting residents to new economic opportunities and a better quality of life for their community. We believe this is an acceptable practice in use of CNI funding based on HUD’s February 2nd guidance on Separability and meets the threshold requirements of the CNI program for HUD’s thoughtful consideration of the City’s application.
We look forward to your partnership in bringing the first Choice Neighborhood to the State of New York.