Sourced from WBNG

Nate Hotchkiss ‘12 is the Democratic and Working Families candidate for the Binghamton City Council’s fourth district. A co-founder of the Binghamton Tenants Union, Hotchkiss has made addressing Binghamton’s housing crisis a focal point of his campaign. Questionnaire responses have been edited for clarity.

1. What motivated you to run?

I’ve been extremely invested in housing issues over the past two years. There is an extreme lack of safe, quality, affordable housing in Binghamton and our elected leaders aren’t doing as much as they could to address the problem. I co-founded the Binghamton Tenants Union to support tenants and advocate for better housing policy in Binghamton. Through that work I’ve seen countless injustices play out with tenants in Binghamton. Additionally, I’ve witnessed real apathy from our current City Council regarding housing. I know local government and Binghamton’s City Council can play a much larger role in addressing our housing crisis.

2. How does your background and previous experience make you a strong candidate for this position?

I’ve been extremely engaged with our local politics for [three] years. I dove into housing issues, because it seemed like there was a lack of attention placed on this extremely pressing issue. Additionally, I’ve been working in the community with great community organizers. Lastly, my degree in bioengineering gave me the systems thinking perspective that I look forward to applying to public policy.

3. What do you believe are the biggest issues facing your constituents, and how do you plan to address them?

Housing is really the biggest issue. Specifically, the lack of safe, quality, affordable housing. There are really so many ways that we can address this issue. There are great examples of what different policies and practices that have been proven to be effective in other municipalities across upstate New York and around the country. I developed a housing plan of where we could get started in Binghamton.

Conduct Vacancy Study — It’s no secret that there are an abundance of vacant properties and apartments throughout Binghamton. We need to know where they are and get them occupied. When we know where they are we can begin to impose vacancy tax or fines to get those properties in motion. We cannot allow properties to sit empty in perpetuity while so many people are desperate to find a place to live.

Code Reform — Rental Licensing & Abandonment Proceedings. We need to continue to boost the capacity of code enforcement. Our current laws and practices allow negligent landlords to let their properties fall into disrepair which continues to erode our housing stock, but also subjects tenants to unsafe living conditions. Rental licensing with pre-inspections would give the Code Department the ability to enforce safe living conditions, as well as giving tenants peace of mind when they move into a new place. Pursuing abandonment proceedings will allow the city to gain control of properties that are vacant and neglected.

City Wide Tax Reassessment — Our city’s property tax assessment is in the top [five] oldest in the state. It’s 30 years old at this point and does not reflect the real value of real estate in Binghamton. This exacerbates inequities and puts an unfair property tax burden on homeowners. Extremely profitable landlords and student landlords are not paying their fair share because of this antiquated system. It makes it harder for first time homeowners to afford a home. A reassessment would begin to balance some of the inequities in how properties are taxed in Binghamton.

Invest in Deeply Affordable Housing — Our elected leadership continues to prioritize tax breaks for luxury housing, whose projected rental costs are far beyond where our greatest demand for housing lie. If the city is to provide a subsidy to a private developer, the developer needs to be committed to addressing our most pressing housing needs, which are in deeply affordable housing.

Youth services is my second-highest priority. The City of Binghamton stopped investing in youth programming around 10 years ago. The few programs that are available are often inaccessible to parents due to costs or location. The solution here is simple. Reinstate the Binghamton Youth Bureau and allocate funding toward youth programming.

4. Many students and community members are concerned about increasing prices, including housing and household essentials. How do you plan to address these concerns?

Beyond what I’ve outlined in my housing plan above, I wouldn’t be opposed to pursuing rent control. Over the last 30 years, rent prices have increased 300 [percent] or more across the [United States]. Wages have remained relatively stagnant. Obviously, this is not a sustainable trend. Rent control is one direct solution to addressing skyrocketing rental costs.

On City Council, it’d be difficult to address increased prices of household items, but I’ll use my voice and position to advocate for the needs of Binghamton up through [the] state and federal government.

5. Why should students and young people vote for you?

I’ve been on the front lines fighting for housing justice for the last [two] years. I understand that students are caught in the same struggle as locals when it comes to finding affordable decent housing. If [your] housing is important to you, I’m your candidate.