Diversity in Ithaca housing: What is being done?

By Tiarra Braddock and Sharon Mejia

On Nov. 30, more than 100 people gathered in the Ithaca High School Kulp Auditorium for the kickoff of the Tompkins County Housing Summit.

The goal of the summit was to address the issue of affordable and accessible housing in Tompkins County. It also aimed at getting a diverse range of views to start a conversation about the local housing market and how it can be improved.

The TC summit planning committee consists of around 23 people including, but not limited to, Tompkins County legislator Martha Robertson and Paul Mazzarella, the executive director of the Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services (INHS).  

According to an article on MarketWatch.com, Ithaca ranked eight out of ten of the most expensive places to live in the U.S. ranking just above San Francisco and just below Poughkeepsie, Newburgh and Middletown, N.Y.

Christopher Coes is the vice president for policy and external affairs Smart Growth America, an urban planning advocacy group. He was also the keynote speaker of the Tompkins County Housing Summit event.

“Addressing affordability, housing or commercial space, there is no silver bullet, there is no one answer,” Coes said. “There are strategies that deal with the problem, you have to do a suite of things, a milieu of options, you have to make real choices.”

The cost for a family of four to live in Ithaca is around $92,603 a year due to high taxes and rent price.  According to the 2014 U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the average two bedroom apartment in Ithaca- including utilities- costs $1,130 per month.

Ed Marx, the director of planning for Tompkins County also spoke at the kick off event. Marx stated that it is 60 to 80 percent more expensive to buy a house in Tompkins county than neighboring counties.

Coes also connected this higher percentage of buying a house to a loss of people’s connection to the Ithaca community, since 25 percent of workers commute to Ithaca from other areas.

“Their connection the the community isn’t want it could be,” Marx said. “We have people who have been excited to come and work here, they look at the housing, and say ‘sorry not for me’. That makes it tougher for businesses in our community.”

According to an Ithaca Voice report on the 2016 housing crisis, high rent prices displace people of color to low income neighborhoods in Ithaca.

The report suggest that white residents are moving into areas in Ithaca that were traditionally populated by African Americans, leading to gentrification. Those areas have since been vacated by African-Americans and high rent prices have prevented them from returning to the area.

In 2000, 33 percent of African Americans were living in the Southside neighborhood, a traditionally African American populated neighborhood, but that is changing. Today that number has dropped down to 27 percent.

In 2000, the West Hill neighborhood consisted of seven percent of the African American population. Today West Hill has 16 percent of the African American population. The Belle Sherman and Bryant Park neighborhood experienced an increase in the African American population by 104 percent.

This housing pattern is not exclusive to African Americans, but it also shows up in the Hispanic ethnic group.

The Hispanic population has experienced a similar shift in location between 2000-2016. West Hill and South Hill populations have had the highest Hispanic group influx during this time. The report states the Hispanic population increased by 174 percent in West Hill and by 101 percent in South Hill.

In terms of non-minority ethnic groups, white residents have had the greatest increase in percentage change in the Downtown, South Hill and West Hill neighborhoods. White residents increased by 22 percent, South Hill by 16 percent and West Hill by 15 percent.

The areas that are experiencing the lower increase are the Southside neighborhood at less than one percent, Belle Sherman and Bryant Park at less than three percent and the Fall Creek neighborhood at less than 10 percent. These neighborhoods have lost white residents, but have increasingly gained non-white residents.  

The West Hill and Belle Sherman and Bryant Park neighborhoods are both farther away from the center of Ithaca, which holds basic services, such as child care services, bus stops and community centers.

Erica Dischino, a senior journalism major at Ithaca College lives off campus in a house in the town of Ithaca. She lives with five people and only two of them have cars, so close proximity to a Tompkins Consolidated Area Transit (TCAT) bus stop was a factor for Dischino and her housemates.

Another factor they considered was a rent price below $600, but Dischino says she was unable to find a house that met her budget.

“We needed a house that had accessible TCAT stops that was within walking distance and it wasn’t a mile away,” Dischino said. “That was an issue for us because the closer you got to a TCAT stop the more expensive the houses got. We had to settle for a more expensive home because we needed that location close to the TCAT stop.”

According to housing statistics from Livibility.com, the average monthly home ownership cost for owners with a mortgage in Ithaca is $1,650 which is higher than the U.S. average monthly payment at $1,061, and the median home price in Ithaca is $205,700.

Suzanne Cerquone is the the director of community relations at INHS. INHS helps people find apartments to rent and homes to buy. Cerquone explained INHS commonly works with a low to medium income clientele. INHS even has services to help people purchase their first home.

“We have grants and other funding available to help them with the down payment assistance,” Cerquone said. “Usually you need a good $20,000 or more to get into your first home for a down payment and a lot of people are not able to save for that. So we partner with other places in town that will help raise that money.”

Along with INHS efforts to increase affordable housing in Ithaca, the TC Housing Summit is an ongoing program working to address this current issue in the long term, as well as assist Ithaca residents with finding affordable housing that meets their income.

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