Affordable Housing Project in Ithaca Stirs Controversy

New affordable housing project currently under construction on Spencer Road has remained a contested topic of discussion as Ithaca’s Urban Renewal Plan moves forward in an effort to combat high rent prices in Ithaca NY.

The Stone Quarry Apartments are being built by the Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Service and they are the one of three organizations developing affordable housing in Ithaca.

“We need more affordable housing because the demand from high income renters drives the cost of even crumby apartments through the roof and pushes people outside of the City, Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick said.

Last April, announced to the ithaca community that the city needed more affordable housing options and discussed the risk of Ithaca’s low vacancy rate, in a Facebook post.

Since then, Ithaca has begun developing multiple projects to combat the cost of housing. These include the 2.7 million dollar project to provide a shelter for homeless women, a group of townhouses, and another home complex on the corner of King and Danby road.

Brian Crandal, a blogger for the blog “Ithacating in Cornel Heights” claimed that Ithaca’s affordable housing crisis was only going to get worse, citing an increase in student enrollment and a failure to increase student housing options.

“There are more students than rooms. Rent will not go down,” Crandal said. “At best, it will go up more slowly.”

Income and Rental Option Disparity

With 46 percent of Ithaca’s population living below the poverty line, affording rent in Ithaca is difficult. In a NY Times story written in April, Ithaca was named the 11th least affordable city in the United States to rent a home in.

Ithaca’s median household income sits at $28,760, and the average cost to rent a two bedroom apartment, within the city, is $955 a month, or $11,460 a year. This means residents renting a standard two bedroom apartment, on average, pay about 40 percent of their annual income toward their rent.

“…people should not pay more than 30% of their income for housing, that seems like an acceptable number by most measures, but we know that there are people paying 60-65% of their income for their current housing because they have no choice,” Paul Mazzerella, executive director of the Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Service said.

The construction of the Stone Quarry apartments came from funding by Pathstone Development (a not-for-profit community development and human service organization), the Federal Low Income Housing Tax Credit program and the INHS.

A common condition the INHS and most other affordable housing options place on their tenants is a full time job. This is an issue according to Carmen Guidi, owner of the Second Wind Cottages.

“What I’ve seen over the past four-five years, …is that low income housing really doesn’t work unless it’s attached to some sort of support mechanism,” Guidi said.

Guidi accepts tenants at his cottages who are on the “verge of homelessness,” and argues that the initial method other organizations use do not successfully place these tenants back on their feet. “We don’t say ‘okay, you need you to sign this and give us [x] amount of dollars a month,’ …we’ll work towards them getting services.”

However, Second Wind Cottages only provides housing for a fraction of those searching for housing in Ithaca. Others have to choose to pay to live in one of the 380 affordable housing units provided by the INHS, or one of the other units provided through affordable housing organizations.

Young-Adult and Student Residents

Many of the residents in Ithaca are students, which according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, account for over 27 percent of the town’s population. The HUD estimates that over 4,000 student households are off campus.

Realtors in the area are also taking note of the younger population looking to invest in their own homes. Claudia Lagalla of the Ithaca area Re/Max Company mentioned seeing an increase in younger clients. “There are actually a greater number of people between ages 20 and 40 looking for housing. I think people are realizing at a younger age that making an investment is a good idea.”

With a dwindling availability of housing options, townspeople could benefit from the addition of another housing complex. Lagalla points out that many of the units still available in Tompkins County are in surrounding towns, while Ithaca is lacking.

The city of Ithaca is running out land to build property for affordable housing and as options grow fewer, the need to build outside of less densely populated areas may likely become the area for new student housing options.

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