ITHACA, N.Y. — A new study released by a non-profit DC think-tank called the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) takes a new look at housing affordability in cities nationwide by adding a new angle to the equation – the cost of childcare.

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It’s been pretty well established that there’s a housing crunch in Ithaca – demand exceeds supply, thanks to a number of reasons, so prices are consistently outpacing income growth.

But many of these studies don’t take into account the differences in what’s affordable to a family, vs. what’s affordable to a single person with no kids to worry about. So let’s take a look at those numbers.

What did the EPI find?

First, some groundwork. EPI bases its numbers off of metropolitan areas – so Ithaca has the rest of Tompkins County averaged in (and given the high number of college students in Ithaca city, a county average gives a more appropriate measure). Rent data comes form the federal government via HUD, using Fair Market Rent (FMR, 40th percentile in the market). Single adults are assigned FMR studio apartment rent in the calculation, single parents of one child are assigned FMR one-bedroom apartments, and two parents with two kids are assigned FMR two-bedroom units.

Food costs come from the USDA, child care costs from the Child Care Aware of America 2014 publication Parents and the High Cost of Child Care, and transportation costs from the federal NHTSA. Much more information on the data sources can be found here. These numbers are for an average and a product of their methodology, so YMMV, your mileage may vary.

Now, for the statistics. Let’s start with three side-by-side tables for Ithaca, using the following family units:

  1. Single adult, no kids
  2. Single parent, one child in daycare
  3. Two parents, two kids, one of which is in grade school, the other in daycare

In what probably comes as no surprise to any local parent, childcare is really expensive. Also, something seems a little off about those housing costs, since a family of four probably isn’t paying the same as a single parent with one child. Luckily, Alternatives Federal Credit Union used the same rent data for their living wage.

It turns out EPI goofed slightly on the Ithaca number – a one-bedroom for one year should be $11,316/year, which brings the annual total for single parent with one child to $63,707. The studio and 2-bedroom values appear to be right. Not very comforting, but at least we’re making the effort to be accurate.

When Ithaca is compared to its neighbors using that 2+2 nuclear family figure, the numbers say Ithaca is the most expensive community by several thousand dollars. With these costs, it’s no wonder Tompkins County is drawing in over 15,000 commuters from other counties every workday. It looks like we’ve also uncovered another flaw in EPI’s calculation. They appear to be that they’re using a statewide average for childcare costs, which are likely far higher downstate than here.

Click on the Ithaca Voice Story Database to learn more. Stories on this topic are filed under “Affordable housing crisis in Ithaca.”

Even when Ithaca gets compared to other well known progressive communities and college towns, it consistently comes out on top as the most expensive place for families to live. This is a ranking where most Ithacans don’t want to be ranked so high.

So what say you, dear readers? Are these childcare costs in the right ballpark, or did the number crunchers at EPI take a swing and miss? Drop me a line at the email below, or leave us a comment on the Facebook page.

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Brian Crandall

Brian Crandall reports on housing and development for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached at