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NYCLU wants guarantees for equitable housing spelled out in Rezone Syracuse plan

One of the 9 addresses on the 1500 block of E. Genesee St. that have been renovated into affordable housing units.
Scott Willis
This home on E. Genesee St. in Syracuse were recently renovated into affordable units by Housing Visions.

The CNY chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union is expressing some serious concerns about Syracuse’s comprehensive rezoning project.  The organization takes issue with what the plan doesn't include. 

The city first began the process of overhauling of its land use plan more than four years ago. Over 100 public meetings have been held since then, and a recent public comment period on the draft generic environmental statement closed in early September. But the NYCLU’s Lanessa Owens-Chaplin says they have more to say. She’s Director of the environmental justice project.

"There's a real failure in the Rezone plan in its entirety to look at how we can achieve a more equitable housing outcome."

For example, she says Rezone doesn’t eliminate exclusionary zoning, which led to redlining of minority populations decades ago. The impact is still seen today. Owens-Chaplin says inclusionary zoning would require new developments to include a minimum number of affordable housing units. She says it needs to be spelled out in the Rezone plan.

"We don't want to constantly have to advocate for affordable housing units to be included in a proposal, then accepting whatever they have to offer as a result. Sometimes it's like 'yea, sure, we'll do affordable housing, but we'll do one or two units.' We want developers to have a realistic expectation that when you develop, you have to include affordable housing."

She says inclusionary zoning is nothing new…more than 200 cities across the nation have it in some form, including parts of New York City, Cincinnati, and Washington, DC. Owens-Chaplin says studies have shown that it does not deter developers, who often get state and federal incentives for affordable housing units. She says the rezone plan also doesn’t include a racial equity impact study to learn how previous zoning laws contributed to segregation.

"Looking at how racist past practices impacted zoning laws , to see how we can start eradicating some of those issues in our city, considering that our city is one of the most segregated cities in the nation. How do we address that. That's something that we feel Rezone hasn't looked at in a meaningful way. How do we start to integrate our neighborhoods."

…which Owens-Chaplin says is what projects like Blueprint 15 and the I-81 replacement claim to want to do. She says Rezone also fails to designate land uses to the new property that will become available after the viaduct is removed. Owens-Chaplin worries that Rezone Syracuse in its current form will promote the interest of developers and gentrification over the interests of racial, economic, and environmental justice.

Scott Willis covers politics, local government, transportation, and arts and culture for WAER. He came to Syracuse from Detroit in 2001, where he began his career in radio as an intern and freelance reporter. Scott is honored and privileged to bring the day’s news and in-depth feature reporting to WAER’s dedicated and generous listeners. You can find him on twitter @swillisWAER and email him at