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Binghamton mayor moves to restrict student housing

Bing Student Housing WEB

Binghamton Mayor Jared Kraham said he would introduce legislation amending the city’s zoning law to limit student housing in some areas of the city.

The proposal would prohibit landlords from renting to groups of four or more students in areas zoned as single-family and two-family residential, which comprises much of the city. 

It would also require landlords with properties in areas zoned for multi-dwelling units to seek approval from the city planning commission. Existing student housing units in those zones would also need approval before July 2023.

"Instead of renting a whole house to a family, these landlords started renting by the room which allowed them to make a lot more money. That style of renting has contributed to a shortage of safe, quality, affordable housing in Binghamton,” Kraham said.

Kraham will also seek to change the zoning of a portion of the city, between Ayres Street and Seminary Avenue, from a two-family residential district to a multi-unit district. Large amounts of student housing are already present in the area.

The key component of the new restrictions would be changes to how “family” is defined in the city zoning code. The current definition includes family by blood, marriage or adoption, as well as looser allowances for a “functional family equivalent”. The latter must be “permanent and stable”.

The new definition includes families by blood, marriage and adoption, but develops more strict criteria to meet the definition of functional family equivalent. Those criteria include sharing expenses such as rent and food, sharing furniture, or the regular presence of dependent children in the unit. Similar language is in use by the cities of Elmira and Cortland.

Binghamton’s proposed definition goes even further to flatly exclude groups of college students from the functional family equivalent definition.

Any groups of four or more students over the age of 16 years old that attend at least half time a university or other institution authorized to confer degrees in New York, would not meet the definition of a functional family equivalent, according to a draft of the legislation provided to WSKG. Dependents of residents would be excluded from that count.

Kraham said the proposed law is intended to address college students, and the landlords that cater to them, from extending into the city’s single-family residential neighborhoods. The mayor said the new definitions should not impact groups of unrelated adults living together, such as a group of young professionals sharing a house.

"They're probably functioning as a family and would not be subject to prosecution,” Kraham said. “I think if you ask any neighbor, four young professionals living in a house is not the same neighborhood impacts as four or five undergraduate college students."

The newly proposed language suggests otherwise.

“A group of individuals living together in the same dwelling unit shall be presumed not to be a functional family unit, as defined in this section, if the dwelling unit is occupied by four or more unrelated adults over the age of 18 years and is not occupied by minor dependent children,” the proposed definition reads in part.

Kraham also said that renting residentially zoned dwellings by the unit is currently illegal and would continue to be illegal under the proposed code.

Kraham said he plans to introduce the legislation at the City Council’s Aug. 1 work session. The matter will also be considered by the city’s planning board and will be subject to a public hearing. A final vote by the City Council could come as early as October.

Vaughn Golden has been reporting across New York since 2016. Working as a freelancer while studying journalism and economics at Ithaca College, Vaughn has reported for a number of outlets including the Albany Times Union, New York Post, and NPR among others. Prior to coming to WSKG full-time, Vaughn was a reporter for the Watertown Daily Times. Vaughn now covers government and politics for WSKG.