The college town crisis, a far too well-known tale of concentrated supply and consistent demand for off-campus housing, is notoriously vigorous in disturbing surrounding neighborhoods and transforming them into university villages. Broome County is not immune to changes in the social landscape. While Binghamton University students typically start touring units off-campus and signing leases nearly a year before their move-in date, year-round Facebook listings of apartment and studio vacancies seemingly contradict the myth of rushing to beat demand.
The reality is that Broome County has an oversupply of student housing. In 2017, complexes like Chenango Place and University Lofts even resorted to promotions, raffles, discounts and other free incentives to beat the competition among property owners. Despite the abundance of housing options for BU students, most of whom do not stay in the area after graduation, finding affordable family housing is difficult for residents of Broome County. 2018 alone saw 300 families with children, half of whom were younger than six, seeking temporary shelter. To add insult to injury, BU has not done its part in mitigating the housing crisis. Since 2015, BU has acquired over 30 plots of land throughout Broome County to expand the school, demolishing the 50 single-family homes and apartments in them and potentially displacing former residents.
Understandably, many are leaving the area — Broome County’s population has been declining for some time and will continue to do so. As a consequence, enrollment in the Binghamton City School District has and will continue to experience the same trend. Roughly 200 families leave the school district each year, as a consequence of pricey rent and inadequate housing options, which risks students’ abilities to flourish socially and academically.
The majority of properties targeting students are constructed in the “group style,” which is difficult to convert into a traditional apartment suitable for families. Construction of low-income housing, such as the new $24 million “Stadium Lofts” project, will prove insufficient in reversing the damage if available units hardly ever feature more than two bedrooms and, therefore, are not suitable for families and students local to Broome County. The same can be said for zoning laws, such as one proposed in July to limit the number of student renters from BU in certain residential areas, which fail if rent is neither affordable nor accessible, as, empirically, most landlords in college towns prefer to rent to students.
The housing crisis, as it concerns families, is inextricably tied to the neglect and inaccessibility of local students’ education. Housing reform, alone, will not keep Broome County’s families here nor will it guarantee their students a stable environment to learn. It is evident that the county’s efforts to address the housing crisis need to work in conjunction with and be motivated by fulfilling the educational needs of their students.
In 2021, the Binghamton City School District originally proposed to shut down one of several elementary schools — including the Horace Mann, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson Elementary schools — that are consistently not at capacity. The proposal was introduced as part of a “feasibility study” intended to reduce costs on classes that operate at sizes less than the state average. The school district is currently reconsidering the renovation of one of the four schools instead, although it is unclear how either of these options will address the root cause of unaffordable housing, driving local student families out.
The “feasibility study” also intends to consolidate the decrease in-state and federal funding caused by declining enrollment. Thus, renovating one of the four schools will not guarantee the receipt of adequate funding and resources. This is more pertinent on a local level. Student-housing complexes, such as Twin River Commons, take part in “PILOT” programs, which allow them to make annual payments in lieu of county and city taxes. In 2017, the City of Binghamton was expected to receive $1,008,952 less than they would have from these off-campus complexes had they not operated under PILOT programs. This amount does not include payments owed to Broome County and the Binghamton City School District. Nevertheless, PILOT programs may be beneficial for developers, but projects that target BU students simultaneously escalate housing insecurity for local students and fail to reinvest in schools in Binghamton’s low-income areas.
Roughly 52.2 percent of Binghamton’s youth already live below the poverty line and 84 percent of Theodore Roosevelt Elementary’s students are considered economically disadvantaged. Yet, while the Binghamton City School District contemplates damage control, there are no policies in place to prevent the rise of housing insecurity among their students, and local leaders have failed to acknowledge the need for affordable family housing as it spills over into their education system. As college town developers drive residents out, housing reform in Broome County should prioritize retaining a long-term community. They need to scrutinize their students’ well-being and the state of their schools, especially for those that are still here.
To get involved, The Stakeholders of Broome County organize supply drives for the homeless, eviction blockades, rallies at City Council meetings and more events open to the public. To reassess the potential closing of an elementary school, the Binghamton City School District plans to hold in-person public forums throughout September, with dates to be decided.
Julie Ha is a sophomore majoring in English.