Ithaca, N.Y. — Imagine you’re a young cabinetmaker who has just graduated from a local vocational school.


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You have a bit of student debt, but not too much. You want to have some disposable income for the weekend, but you’re not exactly going to be eating three-course meals every night.

Can you afford to live in downtown Ithaca? After all, who wouldn’t? It’s beautiful, you can walk wherever you’d like, and the restaurants are world class.

But there’s one major problem: Rent. When it comes to that, you’re facing some daunting math:

— On average, you’ll make $18,830 per year as an entry-level cabinetmaker.

— According to government statistics, that means you probably have about $5,600 per year to spend on housing. (There’s some oversimplifying going on here, but workers generally can be expected to spend about 30 percent of their income on rent.)

— $5,600/year for rent might sound like a lot. But remember that you’re trying to live in downtown Ithaca. And in downtown Ithaca, the “Fair Market Rent” for just a studio (the smallest and cheapest unit of housing) is $943/month, according to a new report.

— At $5,600/year, you have less than $500/month to spend on housing. And since a studio costs $943/month, you barely have half the money you need to meet rent each month for the cheapest place in downtown Ithaca.

— As a young cabinetmaker, you might say to yourself: OK, that’s fine, I’ll live elsewhere.

But presumably my income will go up as I move up the cabinetmaking ladder, and eventually I can afford downtown Ithaca as I get older?

Well, no. The “experienced” cabinetmaker earns $29,990/year. That only translates into about $750/month for rent — still well below the $943/month cost of a studio.

And that’s again assuming you’re OK living your adult life in a studio apartment. Which, presumably, you’re not.


Of course, there’s no reason to single out the plight of cabinetmakers. Downtown Ithaca rents remain beyond the reach of a large number of professionals, according to a new report written by the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency.

IURA Community Development Planner Lynn Truame wrote the document and drafted the numbers. (Look for an interview with Truame later this week.) The report, which deals primarily with an idea for “inclusionary” housing, is expected to be discussed at City Hall tonight.

See related: New report shows just how hard poor must work to live in Ithaca

As we reported yesterday, the report shows just how hard a minimum wage worker would have to labor to afford downtown Ithaca’s rents.

But it also contains a fascinating breakdown of which workers earn enough to pay for downtown Ithaca’s rents — and which, as is more often the case, don’t.

Below are the numbers for affordability at the federal government’s “Fair Market Rent” for downtown Ithaca across a variety of professions.

Look at the key 3 images down: It indicates that all the boxes colored in red correspond with jobs that don’t pay enough to afford a studio in downtown Ithaca.

(Note: If the images are too small to read you can click on them twice to find an expanded version.)

What jobs do pay enough for rent in the area?

Traume notes in her memo that she’s pulled the occupations from the first two pages of a Department of Labor chart.

“Red coloration in a cell indicates that no units in Ithaca would be affordable to a worker with the listed level of experience in the listed occupation, dark pink indicates that only a studio would be affordable, light pink indicates a one bedroom would be affordable, yellow a two-bedroom, and blue a three-bedroom,” she writes.

“There is a notable preponderance of red in both these charts.”

There are about 40 jobs between the two pages, and only a small handful pay enough, on average, to afford downtown Ithaca.

Of those, only 4 professions in total make enough to afford a 3-bedroom in downtown Ithaca:

— Postsecondary teachers

— Architects

— Experienced firefighters

— Nurses

Traume also included a break down of the rent problem for the “median advertised rent” in downtown Ithaca.

Here are those charts:

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Jeff Stein

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