ITHACA, N.Y. — The federal government has slashed the amount of money it gives Ithaca for affordable housing projects over the last several years — and the cuts are likely to get worse.


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Bus To Nature: Route 22

Several local officials say that the reductions are making it more difficult to fight Ithaca’s well-documented affordable housing crisis.

Below is a graphic, put together with statistics provided by the city of Ithaca, outlining the decline in federal funding for Ithaca from the Department of Housing and Urban Development:

(The HOME program grants can only be used for new housing units; the Community Development Block Grant program can be used for housing but also for related infrastructure programs.)

Nels Bohn, director of community development for the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency, said these federal funding programs had helped in the construction of several recent Ithaca affordable housing projects.

That’s much less likely to be the case now and — most likely — in the future, as Congress is pursuing further cuts to the HUD programs outlined in the graphic above.

“The HOME program is the primary funding source for creation of new affordable housing, and has financially assisted Cedar Creek, Breckenridge, Stone Quarry and 210 Hancock affordable housing projects,” Bohn said in an email.

“2016 is not shaping up to improve resources for these vital community development programs.”

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Common Council member Seph Murtagh, who represents the city’s second ward, also lamented the cuts in an email to the Ithaca Voice.

“This funding has been very beneficial for our community over the years. There’s a whole host of things that wouldn’t have been possible without it: renovations at GIAC, various affordable housing developments, the Hospitality Employment Training Program, the list goes on and on,” Murtagh said.

“From housing to job training to immigrant services to public infrastructure, this has been a hugely important source of funding for the City of Ithaca, and these cuts are really devastating.”

Mayor Svante Myrick and other City Hall officials have pursued a two-pronged approach to trying to bring downIthaca’s notoriously high rents: 1) Driving up the overall housing supply by encouraging private developments; 2) Approving new affordable housing projects directly targeted for low-income residents. The second approach has often involved HUD funding.

Breckenridge Place. Photo courtesy of Ithaca Builds

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

In a phone interview on Wednesday, Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services Executive Director Paul Mazzarella explained the following about the cuts:

1 — Despite the smaller pool of federal funding, INHS itself has remained successful and competitive in securing the grants. That success could be imperiled, however, by the continued cuts as the overall pie shrinks.

2 — Separately, the City of Ithaca has not been able to remain similarly competitive in the grant funding process, in part because the size of its grants are determined by a formula that takes into account the size of the overall pool. That will in turn decrease the amount of work INHS can do, because the independent non-profit often relies on city funding for its affordable housing construction projects.

“The only way affordable housing gets built is the use of subsidies from different sources; I think the reality is we’re just not able to do as many projects as we were able to do because there’s less money available,” Mazzarella says.

Mazzarella said there didn’t seem to be much of an end in sight to the long decline of federal funding.

“Unfortunately, housing tends to be a low priority for people in Congress right now,” Mazzarella says, “so we’re seeing some large declines.”

Jeff Stein

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