There was some big new from Syracuse University this past week. For the first time in years the University is putting some oomph into its 28-year-old program to encourage and assist employees to purchase homes in the city closer to the University. The program was initially designed to try to stem the tide of transformation of owner-occupied housing to student rentals and to offer balance to SU-adjacent neighborhoods with a sustainable mix of permanent and transient residents.
The reasons and outcomes are many. Having more homeowners means more local investment and a more secure city tax base. It can mean more support for the school system. Home ownership usually means better overall care of properties and an increase in community engagement. Having employees live close to campus also reduces their commute time, car use, and gas consumption, and also eases traffic and parking congestion around the university.
This initiative. now called “The Syracuse University Live Local” program, is open to ALL staff, and remarkably and thankfully allows part-time worked to benefit, too. The geographic area around the University has also been expanded to include areas to the west and south. The program has its roots in community efforts of the 1980s and ’90s to persuade University leaders to take responsibility and action for the rapid demographic changes in the Greater-University and Westcott neighborhood wrought by a series of University enrollment contractions and expansions. Still, the past three decades has seen the near total transformation of the area from Comstock Avenue to Westcott Street for several blocks adjacent to Euclid Avenue transformed into student housing.
Recent and ongoing realignment of the student housing market, however, presents an opportunity for a new transition. As new options for private off-campus living are presenter to students in areas north and south of the main campus, some blocks in the University-Westcott neighborhood might be reclaimed for owner-occupants, and longer term residential rental for local working people in need of affordable and convenient housing. It remains to be seen how much can change. The sale prices for rental properties remain high, as does the cost of conversion for owner-occupancy. With interests rates rapidly increasing now, it may be that not many buyers will will in make that investment – even with help from “Live Local.”
Community hopes that the hospitals and a few other large city employers would follow the University’s lead and offer incentives for city living faded, and the University program remains a unique initiative. During the Nancy Cantor administration the program was still promoted, but it appears that until this new announcement it has not been used recently to its full potential. Anecdotally we learn of many new hires at the University moving here without knowledge of this program or other programs (such as through UNPA) to assist local home-buyers. It is important that all University departments be made aware of this opportunity and promote it in their recruitment process and that local realtors also be informed. Generally realtors still steer out-of-towners buyers to suburban markets. Together with the opportunities for families with high school children offered through the Say Yes to Education program, living in the city is a viable and affordable option.
The “Live Local’ program offers two options to assist employees seeking to purchase a primary residence in the neighborhoods adjacent to Main Campus. Both the Guaranteed Mortgage Program (GMP) and the University Area Home Ownership Program (UHOP) connect prospective home buyers with lenders to access alternative financing. Since its inception in 1994, hundreds of University employees have participated in the GMP. In cooperation with three participating lenders, 100% of the purchase price can be financed, eliminating the need for a down payment.
From information on the SU website:
“Additionally, because Syracuse University guarantees the mortgage for qualified applicants, the need for private mortgage insurance (commonly known as PMI) is eliminated.
In 2022, in partnership with Solvay Bank, the University expanded the program and introduced UHOP. In addition to the benefits offered by the GMP, UHOP participants now have access to a separate forgivable home improvement loan, a 10-year interest-only loan to the borrower worth up to 10% of the home’s purchase price ($15,000 maximum). Principal payments will commence and be paid for by the University in years 6-10 of the loan, so long as the borrower remains a qualified participant in the program.
Participation in Live Local is available to full-time and regular part-time faculty and staff members who purchase a home within the eligible program area. Visit bfas.syr.edu/real-estate to learn more about Live Local, including how to apply and its participating lenders.”