Area could need 40,000 more homes to accommodate the expected population increase that will come with Micron Technology’s proposed plant
By Aaron Gifford
The Greater Syracuse area would need at least 40,000 additional housing units to accommodate the expected population increase that will accompany Micron Technology’s massive semiconductor chip plant in the town of Clay.
For planners, contractors and home builders, this is a monumental challenge.
Site work for the Micron plant at White Pine Commerce Park is slated to break ground this year. The company will employ about 9,000 workers, and the project could create upward of 50,000 jobs to include construction, supply chain and various ancillary positions.
Presumably, a big chunk of Micron employees who move to the region would seek housing close to work in northern Onondaga or southern Oswego counties. These two places are quite different, with towns like Clay and Cicero boasting some of the highest populations and growth rates of the Syracuse suburbs, while their northern neighbors are still somewhat rural.
David Turner, Oswego County Planning and Community Development director, said a steering committee made up of about two dozen people representing various agencies and departments in Oswego County has been formed to address the needs that Micron will bring — workforce, childcare, transportation, public health and safety and housing.
While there will be plenty of interest in new subdivisions and custom-built homes, Turner said, affordable housing is crucial.
“It’s not just scientists and engineers that will be moving here,” Turner said. “There will be housing needs for groundskeepers and maintenance workers.”
Some of the Oswego County communities that are closest to the Micron site —Schroeppel, Hastings, West Monroe and Constantia— are sparsely populated and not commercially developed. Turner said it will be up to the residents and leaders of those communities to decide if they want to make a comprehensive plan to encourage and regulate development. Comprehensive plans include zoning regulations for housing, retail, services businesses, manufacturing and agriculture.
“This is a watershed moment for them to take advantage of this growth opportunity and they might also decide that they don’t want any changes,” Turner said. “It’s their decision.”
Infrastructure would include new or expanded roads, water and sewer lines, and high-speed Internet service.
Turner stressed that beyond the southern end of the county, the cities of Oswego and Fulton, Pulaski as well as other towns, villages and hamlets have great potential to take advantage of the growth.
Oswego County is geographically diverse, and many new residents might prefer to live in the deep woods near the Tug Hill Plateau or may desire lakeview or riverfronts properties outside population centers.
“It’s not unusual for people to commute an hour to work if they really like where they live,” Turner said.
As for existing rental property, Turner said, Oswego County has its work cut out to upgrade that housing stock. Still, nonprofit neighborhood revitalization programs like Fulton Block Builders, Oswego County Land Bank and Oswego Renaissance Association have the potential to improve hundreds of residential properties through their grant programs.
In the town of Clay, the Onondaga County community where Micron will locate, planners are at the ready to work with developers and home builders as soon as the paperwork is turned in at town hall, said Clay Planning Commissioner Mark Territo.
“So far we do not have a firm plan for the new housing based on Micron,” he said in an email.
“We are still waiting for something official to come in from them [Micron] for board approvals,” Territo said. “Once we have a solid idea of the number of employees, building square footage, timeline to full buildout, construction jobs and sequence, spin off businesses — then we can begin to project with more accuracy the expected need.”
“Up to this point, I have had a lot of speculation from various land owners on potential ideas for development, a lot of which include apartment and townhouse-style apartments. Once we have actual applications for this project, we will be able to make better assessments of what direction the town will want to go with development,” he added.
In Syracuse, the largest municipality in the region, there is a dire need to improve the city’s existing housing stock.
According to Central New York Community Foundation, about 47% of residences in Syracuse were built before 1939. Of the 55,305 households within the city, 24% have at least one major problem, such as plumbing problems. More than 12,500 housing units were vacant as of a 2019 count. And 90% of homes in the city were built before lead paint was banned in 1978. But, as in Oswego County, Syracuse-based neighborhood revitalization programs like Housing Visions and Greater Syracuse Land Bank are working to improve the quality of housing and the vacancy rate. The city also expects to receive state grants in the coming years to bolster those efforts.
As for new housing, a population growth is only part of the equation. The challenge is getting permission, materials, labor and other essential resources, explained Mary Thompson, executive director of Home Builders Association of Central New York, based in Syracuse.
She said proposed state and federal environmental regulations, including “electrification” requirements —meaning no use of gas, oil or propane-powered heating units or appliances, to include gas stoves — will drive up the cost of construction while driving down demand for new homes.
“Hopefully there can be some back and forth on this legislation,” Thompson said. “The main question we have is, can’t we at least keep natural gas? As it is, with inflation and supply chain issues for getting materials, new home construction around here was already declining.”
Another challenge will be getting subdivisions approved, Thompson said. To accommodate the demand for housing brought on by Micron, new housing tracts will need smaller lot sizes to fit more homes. Many towns and village governments in recent years have opposed that kind of density.
“That’s not going to help us get to the numbers we need,” Thompson said.
In addition, it’s difficult to recruit experienced construction workers these days. According to Thompson, the average age for carpenters right now is 58. Ideally, it takes years for carpenter apprentices to learn the trade thoroughly, so there is concern of mass retirements before younger builders can get up to speed.
Thompson said the potential to improve existing houses and apartment buildings is a bit more encouraging. If the government motivates property owners with grants to make homes more energy efficient as opposed to threatening them with mandates, Central New York could see neighborhood revitalizations and higher occupancy rates on a massive scale.
“Overall, it’s a very challenging time right now for contractors,” Thompson said. “But what’s on the horizon is also very exciting.”
The housing market pertaining to the sale of current homes has cooled off some in the past year but remains stable. According to the New York Association of Realtors, the number of transactions in Onondaga County in January of this year was 223 compared to 294 in January 2022, while the number of available homes for sale was 373 in January of this year compared to 356 that month in 2022. The median sale price comparison between the year-long period increased 6%, from $179,250 to $190,000.
In Oswego County, the number of home sales increased by 20% in January compared to a year ago, from 50 to 60, and the median sale price during that same time span rose 5.9%, from $135,000 to $143,000. The number of homes on the market in January of this year was 151, compared to 141 for the first month of the year in 2022.