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SUNY pauses plan to build optometry school on current public housing site in Syracuse

Ellen Abbott

A potential deal between the Syracuse Housing Authority and Upstate Medical University, to tear down some public housing and build an optometry school, has stalled. Some community members gathered to express outrage over the possibility.

The idea was to tear down 92 units of Pioneer Homes situated on a sliver of land between Interstate 81 and the Hospital. In its place, SUNY would construct an optometry school as well as a clinic. Community advocate David Rufus has lived in the neighborhood for 63 years, and was disturbed that neighbors found out about the plan from a Syracuse Post Standard news story.

"I felt like it was an assault," Rufus said. "I felt like it was a violation. I think it reached the level of incompetence and the possibility of this determination, to terminating the people who made that kind of decision."

Rufus was one of a handful of neighbors who came out to criticize the idea on a cold weekend morning. Community activist Deka Dancil agreed, there needed to be more discussion amongst the community about a proposal that would eliminate 92 units of public housing, in a housing-starved city.

"Enough is enough," Dancil said. "We're not going to stand for it. I'm urging whoever is involved to shut this down. You do not yet to use the 18-21 acres of developable land that is going to become available through this project, to do your new urban renewal."

Neighbors are also concerned that this is part of a larger picture — one of gentrification by Upstate and Syracuse University into property that currently, and in the past has been used for public housing.

The Syracuse Housing Authority put a halt to discussions after the community uproar.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.