One Year Later: A look back at Mayor Graham’s student housing district changes
The law, passed in October 2022, redefined family and rezoned the west side of Binghamton to prevent unregulated growth of the student housing industry.
Last July, Binghamton Mayor Jared Kraham proposed an ordinance to “curb student housing.” The law, passed by the Binghamton City Council last October, updated the city’s zoning code and banned student rentals in some residential neighborhoods.
Created to more accurately regulate Binghamton’s housing market, the law ensures that students do not compete with local families for housing, according to a news release from Craham’s office. Specifying that unrelated students living in a single housing unit do not constitute a family, the legislation rezoned part of the West Side, an area with extensive student housing. The City Council vote was four to one in favor of passage.
By law, student housing is prohibited in the city’s one-family (R1) and two-family (R2) residential zones. Student housing is permitted in multiple residential (R3) zones, although new and existing properties require approval from the City Planning Commission by July 1, 2023.
Graham’s 2021 campaign was based in part on his vision for housing integrity. He explained why organizing student housing was a priority when he took office.
“We had outdated laws on the books that were not clear (and) did not allow for effective student housing enforcement,” Kraham said. “Student housing was creeping into neighborhoods that had never had it before. In fact, neighborhoods that were never supposed to have this high population density or the nine-month short-term rental business model.
Graham added that the market “is almost self-enforcing the law.” Prospective student housing owners looking for a mortgage often need a zoning compliance letter, which tells the lender that the use is permitted under city code. Buyers seeking to establish student housing outside permitted areas will not receive a compliance letter and could later be rejected for a mortgage, according to Craham.
The four Republicans in the House, Giovanni Scaringi, Sofia Resinetti, Philip Strawn, and Thomas Scanlon, voted to pass the legislation. The only opposition came from Councilwoman Angela Riley, a Democrat whose district includes much of Binghamton’s west side. At a City Council work meeting on October 6, 2022, Reilly, referring to an email from a constituent, expressed his reservations about the law.
“There is one (LLC) in this area that has over 1,000 beds… in the area that is being rezoned,” Riley said. “They rent each bed for $750, and they make over $750,000 based on the size of their property. They pay taxes based on the price of housing, compared to our small businesses in the area… They’re taxed differently and they don’t make half as much as some These are limited liability companies.
Immediately afterward, Democratic Councilman Joe Burns added that the council was trying to preserve an area that was no longer residential but instead a commercial area filled with student housing businesses. Instead of redefining family, he said, the city should redefine what “business” means. If parts of the West Side were rezoned as commercial, the city could collect more tax revenue on commercial landlords and lower taxes on residential homeowners, according to Burns.
Graham stressed that the law’s goal is to “(protect) the integrity of single-family residential neighborhoods, while expanding the non-student rental market.”
“Student housing is illegal in single-family neighborhoods in Binghamton,” Kraham said.
Evelyn Tucker, a sophomore integrative neuroscience major, said she is looking forward to off-campus housing for the upcoming academic year. She called the zoning ordinance an important step forward for quality of life and equity in Binghamton.
“I think it’s important to separate families and college students who live together,” Tucker said. “Especially when college students go out to bars and parties in neighborhoods where families and children live nearby. I definitely think that owners of large businesses should pay more in taxes because of the impact they have on the local community. They should be helping the community they benefit from and allowing them to thrive.”