Over the summer, the Binghamton City Council approved a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT) agreement for a housing project in Downtown Binghamton supported by the mayor. Then, the Binghamton City School Board voted unanimously to reject the plan.
Initiated through an agreement between the City of Binghamton and UB Family LLC, the project was to build a space over a five-level parking garage, holding around 120 “market rate housing units.” In a four-to-two vote, the City Council approved the PILOT — which would provide a tax break for the building of this complex — before the School Board eventually voted it down. Stacey Duncan, the executive director of the Broome County Industrial Development Agency, said that the estimated economic impact of the project was between $36 and $38 million, acknowledging it was never meant to provide local residents with “affordable housing.”
Aviva Friedman, ‘14 and a Democratic city council member, explained that PILOT agreements are typically used for educational institutions or nonprofit organizations, where the tax burden would become prohibitive for their success. She said that a luxury, for-profit and privately owned business would not be an appropriate PILOT use and that projects like the Water Street plan should not be a priority.
“If we have tax incentives, I think they should be going toward deeply affordable rentals and also programs to help people become homeowners and single-family, owner-occupied properties,” Friedman said. “It’s all a cycle. It’s just not where I think we need to be incentivizing people.”
Friedman said that community activists organized to raise awareness on the ongoing housing crisis in response to developments, and that dozens of residents against the project were present at the school board vote. She emphasized that a “luxury” housing development should not be a main priority of local residents.
In a statement, the Binghamton City School Board explained the unanimous vote against the PILOT, describing insufficient financial upside for the district. They mentioned the duration of the agreement and the lack of affordable housing available to families, staff and faculty as reasons for the vote.
Binghamton Mayor Jared Kraham said that the project was intended to “build quality, market-rate housing” and increase parking options downtown, arguing that both were “badly needed” and widely supported by residents and businesses. If passed, Kraham said that the proposal would have activated a vacant parcel and brought in millions of dollars in revenue for the City, Broome County and the school district.
“Unfortunately, the proposed PILOT bond hit a roadblock in the school board — a body unaccustomed to dealing with these types of projects and the larger fiscal picture,” Kraham wrote in an email. “While the ‘no’ vote leaves questions about the future of the project’s housing component, construction on the parking portion moves forward. The City will continue working to address the demand for more quality housing across Binghamton and more parking downtown.”
Atticus Fauci, the president of the Binghamton University College Democrats and a sophomore majoring in economics, shared his perspective on Binghamton’s housing crisis as a local resident. While he understood the importance of local economic activity, he said that complexes like the proposed PILOT should not be a priority amid a growing need for low-income housing.
“Flipping the city council could be a good first step in order to provide more affordable housing options for Binghamton residents,” Fauci said. “We as a city need to elect officials that are going to prioritize low-income housing.”