ITHACA, N.Y. — Fewer black people are living in the city of Ithaca amid rising property values that make it increasingly difficult for low-income residents to find affordable homes.

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That trend is detailed in a recently released report from the Tompkins County Office of Human Rights, which — drawing on Census data — finds a three percent decline in black residents from 2000 to 2010, the most recent year for which numbers are available. (Overall, 6.5 percent of the city is African-American.)

Leslyn McBean-Clairborne

Several local officials say in interviews that the numbers match their observations: That many of the city’s African-Americans are being forced to move to surrounding towns in the county as a result of gentrification and Ithaca’s extensively documented housing crisis.

“It’s very sad,” says Leslyn McBean-Clairborne, director of the Greater Ithaca Activities Center and a member of the Tompkins County Legislature.

“There’s been a big decrease (of black residents), and it is of concern because we want a city that is reflectively and noticeably multicultural in terms of ethnicity and race and gender identity.”

Director of Ithaca’s Multicultural Resource Center Fabina Colon, who grew up in Ithaca, said she has seen increasing gentrification pushing minorities out of Ithaca for about 10 years. Colon herself says she recently had to move to the town of Danby.

“It’s been visually evident that we have a problem here,” Colon said. “It’s really unfortunate, and I hope there’s more awareness building of the problem of gentrification. It’s real.”

Myrick: Black residents forced out of city by housing crisis

Mayor Svante Myrick said that he hears about African-Americans getting priced out of the city of Ithaca “every day” and that fighting this exodus — by, among other things, supporting private developments and affordable housing projects— has been one of his administration’s top priorities.

“I’ve been saying this as long as I can remember: We need more housing to stop this,” Myrick said.

“This is what happens as a result of policies that say you build absolutely no housing even though the population increases by (about) 4,000 people. The people who will get priced out are the poor and the working class.”

Mayor Svante Myrick wants to build more housing to prevent low-income people from being priced out of the city. A disproportionate number of low-income Ithacans are black, he said. (Jeff Stein/Ithaca Voice)

Myrick said he hadn’t heard of landlords refusing to rent to black people, instead characterizing the trend as a result of market forces. (As determined by the federal government, the monthly “Fair Market Rent” for Ithaca housing jumped 1) for a 2-bedroom home, from $700 in 2006 to $1,100 in 2014; and 2) for a 4-bedroom home, from $1,000 in 2006 to $1,600 in 2014.)

“The landlords raise their rents, and the rents get higher and higher — and because of a 400-year-long history of segregation and oppression, black people are more likely to be poor,” Myrick said.

“Some folks don’t like to hear it, but it’s true. It’s class-based exclusion and it impacts the communities of color more than others.”

6 things about racial integration in Ithaca

Here are six notes about racial integration in the city of Ithaca, as revealed in the new report and as detailed in several interviews this week:

1 — One Ithaca neighborhood’s concentration of black residents is 267 percent greater than that in the rest of the city.

In addition to overall population levels by race, the human rights office report looks at racial integration in the city of Ithaca.

It finds racial segregation in Ithaca to be of a “moderate” level — better than in Syracuse but worse than in Cortland — by citing what is called the “Index of Dissimilarity” (I/D) score. The I/D score looks at the percentage of black people and other minority groups that would have to be moved to create an even distribution of races across a certain neighborhood.

The score for Ithaca is 28 — meaning that Ithaca could be integrated if 28 percent of black Ithacans lived elsewhere. (The number is 46 for Syracuse, 11 for Cortland and 26 for Elmira.)

Though Syracuse has higher levels of reported segregation, maps included in the report detail heavy concentration of black Ithacans in “Census Tract 10” — which encompasses Southwest Ithaca (including Southside and West Hill) — relative to the rest of the city.

Overall, Census Tract 10— which also includes some land beyond the city limits — is the only part of Ithaca which is more than 20 percent comprised of African-Americans. It is 267 percent more concentrated with black residents than the city at large.

Graphs shows racial segregation in Ithaca by Census Tract. Only 2 of 10 Census Tracts in Ithaca are at least 10% African-American

Except for the Commons/downtown area, no other Census Tract in the Ithaca area has a concentration of African-American residents greater than 10 percent.

2 — There are major discrepancies in poverty rates among races in Ithaca.

Myrick said this above, but it’s confirmed by the statistics detailed in the new county report: Black residents have higher poverty rates than any other racial group in the city of Ithaca.

The numbers come despite strong economic growth in Tompkins County and an unemployment rate that is among the lowest in the state. Overall, the county grew by about 5,000 people as the number of black residents fell.

Poverty rates among black residents are a problem in their own right, of course, but they are also likely to be contributing to the general departure of African-Americans from the city, according to several local officials.

This graph, from the report, shows poverty rates for families:

That’s a highly relevant for the next data point, too.

3 — Landlords who refuse Section 8 vouchers may be hurting black residents.

“Section 8” is a federal program that allows low-income residents to use vouchers to reimburse landlords for at least part of their rent.

Landlords aren’t legally required to accept Section 8. But by rejecting Section 8 housing, they are likely discriminating against poor residents — even if they’re not breaking the law — according to the county’s report.

The county human rights office, in conducting its study, wanted to find out how many Ithaca landlords would accept Section 8. So the office had four prospective tenants call rental agents to find out if they could use the voucher to pay their rent.

The results were not encouraging. “All Section 8 testers were either outright rejected, steered to other properties, or refused based on the Section 8 agency’d security deposit policy,” the report says.

“Lawful exclusion against renters using (Section 8) is widely practiced by landlords in Tompkins County.”

The report adds that this has a “disparate” impact on certain classes, including African-Americans.

African-Americans make up four percent of the county’s overall population, but 21 percent of the county’s recipients of Section housing vouchers, according to the study.

The new Breckenridge Apartments in Ithaca accept Section 8 housing vouchers. But many Ithaca landlords do not — a choice that disproportionately affects low-income residents and black people, according to a new report. (Pic by Ithacating)

4 — Is there uncertainty about this overall trend?

Two new affordable housing projects that accept Section 8 vouchers recently opened outside of the city limits, according to Lynne Truame, community development planner for the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency. That may be influencing the numbers showing a decrease in African-Americans in the city of Ithaca, according to Truame.

There’s a couple ways of looking at this:

A — If these two new affordable housing projects are helping African-Americans and low-income residents, than maybe the news isn’t as bad as the population figures suggest;

B — Still, Truame noted, the projects remain outside of the city. So even if they are helping, the projects don’t mean Ithaca is doing enough to help poor and minority residents.


Truame added that while rising rents appeared to be forcing African-Americans out of the city, the report itself does not conclusively say that this is the case.

“That’s the logical conclusion, but I don’t know if we know enough about it to know what’s happening,” she said. “It didn’t go into enough depth for me to say if this is something going on or if this is a trend.”

Similarly, Director of Human Rights Karen Baer said that the report does not definitively conclude that the housing crisis is linked to the changes in the city’s black population.

“We don’t know why there’s a decrease … all we could really do with that is the counting,” said Baer, the lead author of the report.

Still, like several other officials like Truame, Myrick and Clairborne, Baer suggested the link seems likely.

“If more blacks fall below a socioeconomic level, affordability is going to have a disparate impact on that socioeconomic group,” she said.

5 — More Asians, Hispanics are living in both Ithaca and Tompkins County.

Ithaca saw a decrease in the number of black residents. But other minorities saw gains in the city over the same period of time, according ot the report.

For instance, there are an increasing number of Asians and Hispanics living in both Ithaca and Tompkins County, according to the human rights report.

— The number of Asians in Ithaca increased from 14 percent of the total population in 2000 to 16.2 percent in 2010.

— The number of Hispanics increased from 5.3 percent of the total population in 2000 to 6.9 percent in 2010.

The report says that the high number of Asian residents is largely composed of two groups:

A — Students at Cornell, concentrated in residential neighborhoods near the university; and

B — Immigrants from Southeast Asia, who tend to live in Ithaca’s Northside or in Ithaca’s Southwest corridor.

Hispanics, meanwhile, are roughly uniformly integrated throughout Ithaca — with the greatest concentration being in Fall Creek, West Hill and Northside.

6 — Overall, Tompkins County continues to see rising number of African-Americans.

Also, despite the increase in the city of Ithaca, there are more African-Americans in Tompkins County overall, according to the report.

The Town of Ithaca, for instance, has seen a major 41 percent increase in its black population. The county as a whole saw a 4 percent increase in its African-American population from 2000 to 2010 even as those same numbers fell in the city.

McBean-Clairborne, the county legislator and GIAC director, said she has seen this change firsthand. An increasing number of black residents have begun living outside the city and commuting in from the outlying for work in the city of Ithaca, she said.

When public transit doesn’t make up the divide, they often have to rely on others for their daily commutes, she said.

“You hitch a ride in with a neighbor, and hitch a ride when the neighbor leaves — or you figure out how someone takes you home. That is unconscionable, and, yes, we’re seeing that,” she said.

Though the trend may be in doubt, Clairborne said, the future is. Will Ithaca continue to see its most disadvantaged residents priced out — or will things improve?

“It’s only going to get worse if people can’t afford to live here, especially for people making poverty-level wages,” she said. “It’s a big question.”

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Jeff Stein

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