By Siddharth Gundapaneni
On July 19th, Binghamton Mayor Jared Kraham put forth a new housing law with the purpose of “protecting the integrity of single-family residential neighborhoods.” In an attempt to diversify housing options available for locals, this law will place significant restrictions on where students looking to live off-campus are able to reside. Unfortunately, the consequences of this policy will not be as favorable as the Mayor may have hoped.
This law will immediately make the housing process difficult for students looking to move off-campus, many of whom are first-time renters. A number of houses, including everything south of Ayres Street, will no longer be available to students seeking to live with their peers. Many of Binghamton’s multi-family (R3) residential zones, where students are able to reside, will be converted to single-family (R1) and two-family (R2) residential zones. The language used in Kraham’s announcement gives a strong impression that the City of Binghamton will take prosecuting students that live in R1 or R2 zones much more seriously going forward.
As a result of the restricted market for students, rent prices will undoubtedly begin to rise. This stands in stark contrast to nationwide trends of a declining housing market due to rising mortgage rates, which are now at their highest point since the Great Recession. Restricting the housing market while mortgage rates increase is a recipe for worsening financial stress among students.
Now you may be wondering, does this policy only hurt college students? Unfortunately the scope of zoning laws’ consequences is much larger. As of now, all non-Vestal apartments are located in the heart of downtown Binghamton. It is reasonable to assume based on Binghamton’s growing industries, like the new metrocenter and whatever may come out of the $500,000 federal funding for an energy project, that there will be a demand for more apartment complexes.
Unfortunately this law, with no type of sunset provision (essentially an expiration date for laws), will hamper the market’s ability to build new apartment complexes due to areas restricted to only single or double family housing.
Similar phenomena can be observed nationwide. Over the last two years in California, there have been massive pushes to deregulate the housing industry and allow for more apartments to be built. Like Binghamton, California wanted to preserve the “clean” suburbs sought after by America’s upper middle class that wished to enjoy proximity to jobs, but be kept away from poorer populations. There’s always been this notion of the white liberal that supports low-income housing but not in their neighborhood, and advocates of these zoning reforms embody that stereotype. Soon enough, Binghamton’s poorest residents will be unable to rent apartments in Binghamton, and will be relegated to competing for R1 and R2 houses with wealthier middle class families. Clearly, Binghamton’s college-aged population is not the only demographic facing the repercussions of this policy.
Consider California’s housing crisis, ranking 49th in the Union for both housing units per resident and home ownership rates. This obviously stems from numerous zoning restrictions on land-use, severely restricting their housing supply. While Binghamton likely won’t experience a housing crisis to the extent California is dealing with, we can see similar trends come to fruition through the same mistakes being made. California voters, understanding the ramifications of zoning laws, recently approved of SB 9 and 10, which eliminates many of the single-family zones in the state. Seeing this Binghamton law garner such large support comes at a time when others are going the opposite direction comes as a disappointment.
Housing deregulation is a position that must be embraced across the political spectrum. Proponents of a limited government should be supportive of the government no longer dictating how many people can live in which area. Social justice advocates should foresee a more equitable distribution of living standards brought about by an increased housing supply, in addition to “bourgeoisie” interests no longer being held above the working class’.
Mayor Kraham’s zoning law is yet to go into effect, with a public hearing set to occur prior to the planning commission issuing a final vote. It is crucial that this legislation be blocked, for the students that dominate this city’s economy, and for the extensive low-income communities of Binghamton. Zoning laws are one area of politics most despise, where politicians protect the interests of a select, influential voting bloc. No matter how you feel about the politicians, college students, or locals, one thing rings true for all; zoning laws have no place in policy if we want to see a better Binghamton.