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Syracuse Housing Authority marks 75 years

The Syracuse Housing Authority, the agency overseeing publicly-subsidized housing in the city, is celebrating its 75th anniversary.

As it marks the milestone, the authority has a waiting list 3,000 names long to get into one of its units. There are twice as many people waiting to get a Section 8 voucher that helps low income people pay rent. And the federal dollars coming to SHA is significantly less than it used to be.

Still, SHA executive director Bill Simmons says the authority is doing more and they’re moving in a "unique direction" toward a focus on home ownership.

"For those who are in public housing, we always look at it as a safety net, and not a spider web," he said. "We try to make sure public housing is a cycle of success and not a cycle of poverty."

The authority completed a goal of building 50 new homes throughout the city. Despite the stereotypes and stigmas around public housing programs, Simmons said the agency is running more like a business than it used to.

"You always try to emphasize the self-sufficiency and the opportunity for a leg up in public housing," he said Friday, as the authority prepped for a sold out gala.

The housing authority operates 15 housing developments in Syracuse. Half of its 3,000 tenants are elderly or disabled.

Maintaining properties is a challenge with only a quarter of the federal money it once received, according to Simmons, down from more than $10 million a year.

He said when the economy is poor, public housing is often the best option for low-income families.

"While at the same time you try to provide a safety net, it’s not good when the best housing in the city of Syracuse is public housing, because people don’t want to leave because the economy is so poor," he said.