Onondaga County has taken the area's housing shortage into its own hands in preparation for thousands of new workers at Micron Technology — refusing to wait on state action as leaders Thursday said they will overcome expected pushback from local officials who remain skeptical of new developments.

As the Legislature readies for a spirited housing debate this budget cycle, the clock is ticking for Onondaga County to build a variety of affordable housing after Micron's announcement last year to invest $100 billion to build a new semiconductor manufacturing facility in the town of Clay. The first phase of the project is expected to be completed by the end of the decade.

The Onondaga County Housing Initiative Program, called O-CHIP, will award $10 million to developers as an incentive to build a diversity of family, senior, mixed-use and other housing amid increasing construction costs and interest rates at a 40-year high. The county has announced its first awards within the program, created last year.

"We have a need today. That need is only getting more and more dire," Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon told Spectrum News 1 at a state Association of Counties conference in Albany this week. 

The county needs at least 10,000 new housing units within the next three years to keep on pace to accommodate the economic growth Micron's development will bring to the region, McMahon said. Developer projects must be at least five units to qualify for O-CHIP funds.

"We're investing, we're planning," he said. "We will continue to invest and those investments will pay great dividends for us."

But McMahon has bigger ideas for housing incentives within the county and beyond. The county executive said he's spoken with state leaders about expanding a state program to counties that designates municipalities "Pro-Housing Communities" and gives them priority for grant funding — beginning in the latter half of this year. 

The state must work with counties to be successful in building more housing, he said, and take a thoughtfully regional approach. 

"To get housing done in a big way, you need to upgrade infrastructure," McMahon said. "You need to look at sites where you can develop density and oftentimes, counties play the local lead related to that.

"You want to enhance neighborhoods revitalize new neighborhoods so you really need to plan," he added. "Counties are the perfect partner for that."

Some localities, meanwhile, meet proposed new housing projects with backlash.

The town of Cicero, Onondaga County, held a public hearing Wednesday night about a proposal to create a new zoning district for large multi-family developments and require a special-use permit for projects over four units — an example of new rules that could make breaking ground more difficult.

"We don't want ordinary developments in Cicero because Cicero's not an ordinary town," town councilor Jonathan Karp said at Wednesday's hearing. "Cicero is an extraordinary town. It's why we all live here."

The proposed zoning change is in response to the county's Industrial Development Agency giving new tax breaks to residential developers, but could give insight to future pushback to other building projects.

County leaders Thursday said they stand ready to work with local elected officials as they prepare for an influx of workers to construct and work at Micron's new Clay facility.

"We certainly understand and respect the hesitancy that certain communities have regarding the growth and change taking place in our community," McMahon said. "We have and will continue to provide the tools and resources necessary to these local leaders to understand the opportunity in front of us and adjust accordingly."

Over 140 communities in the state have submitted applications to become Pro-Housing Communities. State Homes & Community Renewal continues to review applications on a rolling basis.

The state agency remains focused on working with smaller governments that control local zoning, not counties, within the program to date, HCR officials said. 

"Gov. Hochul knows the only solution to our housing crisis is to build more — that's why her Pro-Housing Communities initiative targets state funding to municipalities that are committed to building more housing," an HRC spokesperson said in a statement Thursday. "This program is focusing on municipalities since zoning decisions are managed on the city, town and village level, and we are always looking for more ways to build more housing." 

Sally Santangelo, executive director of Central New York Fair Housing, said upstate communities have lost hundreds of housing units due to providers' poor management while local zoning barriers have created an insufficient number of new units.

About 360 units are built in the county per year, meaning it would take over 30 years to hit the executives goal of 10,000 units.

"We can't continue to let new homes for people be held up by a handful of vocal critics who don't want to see change in their communities," Santangelo said.

Santangelo recounted recent discussions with local elected officials in the county, who expressed concerns about the negative impacts of new apartments or multi-family developments on traffic and crime.

Some residents told her they are fearful over new multi-family housing drawing immigrant families to the area and its impact on neighborhood character.

One elected official from the town of Lysander told Santangelo he didn't want "third-world people" living in his community.

"They're actually restricting their housing construction even more and making it harder to build more housing," Santangelo said. "And so, it's tough when we're going backwards and you're seeing a lot of anti-housing backlash in communities."

While local officials stepping up will kickstart lethargic housing construction, Santangelo said it will be no match without state leadership, and the Legislature must reach a housing deal and take action as soon as possible.

"If we don't start making some changes at the state level, I'm afraid we're just going to be continuing to have this conversation over and over again for the years to come," she said.