Last July, Binghamton Mayor Jared Kraham proposed an ordinance to “curb student housing.” The law, passed by Binghamton’s City Council last October, modernized the city’s zoning law and prohibited student rentals in some residential neighborhoods.

Created to more precisely regulate Binghamton’s housing market, the law ensures that students do not compete with local families for housing, according to a press release from Kraham’s office. Specifying that unrelated students living in the one housing unit did not constitute a family, the legislation rezoned part of the West Side, an area with widespread student housing. The City Council vote was four to one in favor of passage.

Under the law, student housing is prohibited in the city’s single-family (R1) and two-family (R2) residential zones. Student housing is allowed in multi-residential zones (R3), though new and existing properties required approval from the city’s Planning Commission by July 1, 2023.

Kraham’s 2021 campaign was partly grounded in his vision for housing integrity. He explained why regulating student housing was a priority once in office.

“We had antiquated laws on the books that were not clear [and] did not allow for enforcement of student housing effectively,” Kraham said. “Student housing was creeping into neighborhoods that had never had [it] before. And really, neighborhoods that were never intended to have that high-density of living or the nine month short-term rental type of business model.”

Kraham added that the market is “almost self-enforcing” the law. Prospective student housing landlords 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 of allowed areas will not get the compliance letter and can be subsequently denied the mortgage, according to Kraham.

The Council’s four Republicans, Giovanni Scaringi, Sophia Resciniti, Philip Strawn and Thomas Scanlon, all voted to pass the legislation. The lone dissent came from Councilwoman Angela Riley, a Democrat whose district encompasses a large portion of Binghamton’s West Side. At a City Council business meeting on Oct. 6, 2022, Riley, referencing an email from a constituent, expressed reservations about the law.

“There’s one of the [limited liability companies] (LLCs) in this district that has over 1,000 beds … in the area that’s being rezoned,” Riley said. “They rent each bed for $750, and they are making over $750,000 based upon their property load. They pay taxes based upon a residential rate, where compared to our small businesses that are in the area … they’re taxed differently and don’t make half as much as some of these LLCs.”

Immediately after, Democratic Councilman Joe Burns added that the Council was attempting to preserve an area that was no longer residential but instead a commercial district rife with the business of student housing. He said that instead of redefining a family, the city should redefine what a “business” is. If portions of the West Side were rezoned as commercial districts, the city could collect more tax revenue on commercial landlords and lower taxes on residential homeowners, according to Burns.

Kraham emphasized that the ordinance’s goal was to “[protect] the integrity of single-family residential neighborhoods, while expanding the market for non-student rentals.”

“Student housing is an illegal business in single-family neighborhoods in Binghamton,” Kraham said.

Evelyn Tucker, a sophomore majoring in integrative neuroscience, said she was looking at off-campus housing for the next academic year. She described the zoning law as an important step forward for both quality of life and equity in Binghamton.

“I think it’s important to have a separation between families and college students living together,” Tucker said. “Especially when college students are going out to bars and parties in neighborhoods with families and kids living nearby. I definitely think big, corporate landlords should pay more taxes because of their impact on the local community. They should be helping the community that they profit in and allow them to thrive.”