On Tuesday, Binghamton University’s College Democrats hosted New York State Sen. Lea Webb ‘04 and Binghamton City Council candidates Kinya Middleton and Nate Hotchkiss ‘12.
The local leaders participated in a Q&A session about a variety of issues facing the City of Binghamton. The most prominently discussed was the lack of affordable housing in the city — on which Middleton and Hotchkiss both spoke. Webb later joined the meeting after visiting the “National Voter Registration Fair” on campus to discuss her current work in the state legislature and her plans for future legislation on a variety of issues.
Webb, a native of New York State’s Southern Tier, spoke about steps that should be taken for the continued development of the city.
“I think it’s important for local and state officials to work with different stakeholders in the community,” Webb said. “Whether it’s [BU], nonprofits or public and private entities to expand opportunities for the city’s continued revitalization. It’s also important to have a sense of what people are experiencing in real time on the ground, and that’s where local officials play a pivotal role in working with state officials to not only give that insight, but also work on developing strategies and solutions.”
Webb, Middleton and Hotchkiss also discussed the importance of getting involved with local government and the importance of student voting. Middleton, a Binghamton resident and general manager of the Greater Good Grocery Store — which works to directly serve residents who have limited access to fresh food — is running in the city’s second City Council district. She spoke on a variety of topics related to improving the city, including her desire to develop a youth center specifically focused on middle school-aged students.
“When opening a youth center, middle school would be the age I would want to focus on,” Middleton said. “It is such a crucial age, and we need to make sure we are pouring resources into efforts on behalf of our kids, making sure they feel good emotionally and socially.”
Hotchkiss, a Binghamton resident running in the fourth City Council district, spoke with students on the lack of affordable housing and its wider impacts on the city — an issue he feels has not received necessary attention from local officials. Notable impacts he mentioned included high numbers of transient people, growing numbers in emergency shelters and an inability to find stable housing for low-income families. Hotchkiss specifically mentioned the lack of deeply affordable housing, or housing priced for people earning 25 to 35 percent of an area’s median income.
“My goal is to bring awareness to local officials on where our greatest deficits are,” Hotchkiss said. “One specific deficit can be seen looking at deeply affordable housing, where a deficit of 6,500 units exists for Broome County.”
Participants also discussed the University’s role in the housing crisis, especially the growing demand for housing by students. Hotchkiss said that landlords have taken advantage of this demand by turning residential homes into rental properties for students.
Atticus Fauci, president of the College Democrats and a sophomore majoring in economics, gave his perspective as both a University student and a Binghamton resident on the importance of local officials working to address the housing issue.
“The number one issue is undoubtedly housing,” Fauci said. “With a town that is dominated by the University, there is such a need for student housing, along with affordable low-income housing and even affordable housing for families trying to live and work here.”
After the Q&A session, some students stayed afterward to have conversations with the event’s speakers, including Webb. This allowed students an opportunity to ask questions about the issues the candidates looked to address in greater detail and to inquire about how to get involved with their campaigns. One of those students was Akshirtha Selvakumar, a freshman majoring in philosophy, politics and law. She felt discussing the lack of affordable housing in Binghamton was a topic of great significance.
“Something I feel is important is housing and the repercussions the University has on Binghamton as a whole,” Selvakumar said. “I feel that we as students don’t go outside the University bubble, and could make a greater effort to help with this issue.”