Design renderings for a planned affordable housing site in Ithaca

ITHACA, N.Y. — 74 hours per week.

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That’s how hard a minimum wage worker would need to work to reasonably afford just a studio apartment in the city of Ithaca at the “Fair Market Rent,” according to a new report published by the city’s Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency.

The report, written by IURA Community Development Planner Lynn Truame, sheds new insight into the extent of the much-discussed affordable housing crisis in Ithaca.

(The document was made available in the agenda for Wednesday’s meeting of the Planning and Economic Development Committee of Ithaca’s Common Council.)

Design renderings for a planned affordable housing site in Ithaca

Here are a few other conclusions from the report:

— How did they get to the 74 hours/week number?

In her report, Truame explains what’s called the “housing wage,” which finds what hourly wage is required to afford a typical unit of housing within a certain area, according to the report.

Being able to afford something is defined as requiring less than 30 percent of one’s income to be spent toward it, according to Truame.

See related: Ithaca housing leader talks costs, development, Stone Quarry controversy

See related: 5 takeaways about Ithaca development from new report

— Then what is the “housing wage” for Ithaca? Well, that depends on how big a place you want.

If it’s a studio, the housing wage at a Fair Market Rent is $14.79 per hour. In other words, to reasonably afford a studio in Ithaca, workers must make about $15/hour. (The minimum wage in New York state is $8.75.)

Naturally, that number is even higher if the apartment is bigger. Here’s the “housing wage” for each apartment size.

» Studio: $14.79/hour.

» One-bedroom apartment: $18.13/hour.

» Two-bedroom apartment: $21.73/hour.

» Three-bedroom apartment: $30.10/hour.

— As mentioned, minimum wage workers would need to work an estimated 74 hours/week to afford a studio.

But the numbers, of course, again increase for anyone who wants to live in a bigger place.

Here’s the number of minimum wage hours necessary to work to afford each apartment size, according to the report:

» One-bedroom apartment: 91 hours/week of minimum wage work.

» Two-bedroom apartment: 109 hours/week of minimum wage work.

» Three-bedroom apartment: 150 hours/week of minimum wage work.

— The report says more about the affordable housing crisis.

Over half of all renters spend “more than 30% of their gross income on housing costs,” the report says. In addition, 10 percent spent more than half of their income on housing costs.

That doesn’t leave much for disposable income — especially when considering rising health care costs for many.

— Ithaca’s affordable housing crisis doesn’t just affect renters.

More than 20 percent of homeowners spend at least 30 percent of their income on monthly housing costs, according to the new report.

And Ithaca has a “very low” rate of homeownership, the report states — just 27 percent.

Nota bene: The “Fair Market Rent” is calculated by the federal government and, according to the report …

“… represents the 40th percentile rate of rent for the locality (that is, 40% of units in the market, in theory, rent below the FMR rate while 60% rent above that rate). Ithaca’s FMR is calculated for our Metropolitan Statistical Area, which includes areas outside the city.”

— Is there anything that can be done? Of course, Ithaca is pursuing a range of methods to expand the housing supply — building both private developments and affordable housing units all over the city.

But perhaps surprisingly, this analysis of the extent of Ithaca’s affordable housing problem is just a prelude to a proposed solution: “Inclusionary Zoning for Affordable Housing.”

Which we will look at in a follow-up story.

See related: Ithaca’s growing inequality problem, and how it relates to development


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Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.