Editor’s Note: This is an editorial written by Jeff Stein, editor of the Ithaca Voice.
As always, we are eager to print alternative or dissenting viewpoints — especially when they differ from ours. To do so, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
— Jeff Stein
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Why I Shop Downtown
Ithaca, N.Y. — Earlier this week, the Ithaca Voice reported that the cost of a studio at the new Lofts @ Six Mile Creek would be at least $1,220 per month. The story also noted that a 2 bedroom apartment would cost $2,655 per month.
The article generated a massive outcry on our Facebook page. Dozens of readers commented that these prices are only affordable by the wealthiest Ithaca residents and that the city is in the throes of an affordable housing crisis. About this we are in full agreement.
But the outrage didn’t stop there. Many readers went further, saying Ithaca was wrong to support a project accessible only to the rich. Some criticized the mayor for not making the rents more affordable. Others went as far as to imply that the developer had acted maliciously or out of conscious disregard for the poor.
On these points, we disagree. It makes sense that seeing high-rents at the Lofts @ Six Mile Creek would trigger concerns about spiraling housing prices. The idea of more high-end housing for the super rich is understandably unpopular.
Ultimately, however, it’s important to emphasize that the new development is in no way the cause of our affordable housing crisis, but — counter-intuitive though it may seem — actually part of the solution to it.
Why is that? Because there are really only two ways to lower rent prices in a city: 1) By building more affordable housing, 2) By increasing the overall housing stock, which creates competition and drives down prices for everyone else.
There’s abundant evidence that the city has avidly pursued the first strategy — to even too great a degree, according to some. The list of either recently completed or planned affordable housing projects is massive. Here’s a sampling: The Stone Quarry Apartments; the former grocery store on the north side; Breckenridge Place; Greenway Homes; Hector Street; and Cedar Creek.
You can criticize City Hall for how it chose these projects, or where they decided to put them, or how INHS went about building them — but you can’t really fairly criticize Ithaca’s government for failing to push affordable housing.
The Lofts @ Six Mile Creek were never intended to be part of this first strategy. Instead, it was firmly part of the well-tested idea that a greater housing supply will lead to lower rents across the market. This development is better understood as part of a raft of private development occurring throughout the city: At places like Harold Square downtown; at Collegetown Terrace in lower Collegetown; and on South Hill.
Many of these projects will have rents beyond the price of the average Ithacan. And that’s OK. Because if a wealthy couple lives in a new high rise, it won’t be competing for the condo with the middle-class family, which means the middle-class family won’t be competing for the duplex with the minimum wage worker.
Some criticize this idea as another form of Reagan’s “trickle down” economics. It’s not. As Mayor Svante Myrick recently said, “Without options, tenants are forced to compete for landlords. We need to switch that trend. Landlords should compete for tenants by lowering their rents and increasing the quality of housing. That won’t happen unless we build more housing at every income level.”
Ithaca’s rental prices are out of control. But we have to be smart and discerning about their causes, or we risk making the problem even worse.