City of Syracuse Receives $965,000 Grant to Address Troubled Housing

Feb 21, 2020

Assemblymember Pam Hunter, Senator Rachel May, Assemblymember Al Stirpe, and Mayor Ben Walsh hold the "check" for strategic housing programs.
Credit Scott Willis / WAER News

A nearly $1 million grant will help the City of Syracuse find innovative ways to address and transform blighted, vacant, or poorly maintained properties.  It’s part of the Cities for Responsible Investment and Strategic Enforcement, or Cities RISE program.  

Attorney General Letitia James stopped in Syracuse yesterday to announce the funding, and says one of the goals is to help code enforcement officers.

"This program provides municipal staff with technical assistance, the ability to implement technology, analyze data, and use it to drive code enforcement actions.  We also provide expert guidance which specializes in community revitalization to help cities steer the program in a way that works best for them."

That includes hiring, training, and paying four city residents who will serve as community ambassadors for their neighborhoods to stay on top of code enforcement and housing issues.   Mayor Ben Walsh says this engagement is key to the program’s success.

"Collaborating with residents when it comes to neighborhood planning, working more with them instead of for them.  Residents want to be empowered to improve their neighborhoods; they're not just looking to us as the government to help.   We need to give them the tools to help, and that's what this program is all about."

NYS Attorney General Tish James makes the announcement Thursday in the City Hall Commons Atrium surrounded by other elected officials and stakeholders.
Credit Scott Willis / WAER News

But ultimately winning the grant took months of work.  Leah Russell is the Peacemaking Project Coordinator at the Center for Court Innovation in Syracuse.  She says a team of facilitators coordinated over 60 “kitchen table” talks with more than 800 residents of all backgrounds to better understand housing issues and their wide-ranging impact.

"The conversations were at times difficult and uncomfortable.  But often, they were loud, rowdy, and fun.  They were always inspiring and they were brutally honest.  We know that when we intentionally include diverse voices, the process is always a bit messier and difficult.  But the end product is always better."

Russell says the grant shows the community that their voices have been heard.  Syracuse is one of several cities to receive grants under the Cities RISE program.  Each received expert support from Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government's Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, and Tolemi, and Hester Street.  The funding comes from a 2016 settlement with Goldman Sachs as a result of the  foreclosure crisis.