The Ithaca Commons. (Jeff Lower/Ithaca Voice)

ITHACA, N.Y. — The number of families living in Ithaca fell over the last decade even as the overall population of the city increased, according to a new report.

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Here are seven data points mentioned in a study recently released by a county agency:

1 — In the city of Ithaca, the number of families with children younger than 18 dropped by 9 percent from 2000 to 2010, the most recent year for which figures are provided.

2 — The City of Ithaca also saw a decline in the number of single females raising children. That demographic fell by 12 percent from 2000 to 2010 within the city. (The number of single males raising children is not documented in the report.)

3 — Family households overall, including those without children, also fell within the city (by 4 percent). The decline in families with children was more pronounced.

4 — Meanwhile, “nonfamily households” grew by 2 percent. This was the only demographic related to family status that saw growth from 2000 to 2010.

5 — Tompkins County as a whole saw an even steeper decline in the number of families with children younger than 18. From 2000 to 2010, the number of families with children younger than 18 fell by 12 percent in Tompkins County.

The Ithaca Commons. (Jeff Lower/Ithaca Voice)

6 — Meanwhile, going the opposite direction of both the county and city, the town of Ithaca saw increases in both the number of families with children (+5 percent) and the number of single women with children (+19 percent).

7 — Both Tompkins County and the city of Ithaca saw growth in the overall size of their populations even as the number of families shrunk.

The City of Ithaca added about 720 people (or an approximately 2.5 percent increase); Tompkins County added about 5,000 people (or an approximately 5 percent increase).


Official: Trend’s connection to affordability crisis is unclear

What’s causing the decline in families raising children in Ithaca?

Lynne Truame, community development planner for the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency, says it would be too facile to connect this trend to Ithaca’s much-discussed affordable housing crisis.

“I don’t know if seeing fewer family households has anything to do with affordability or not,” Truame said. “I think it would be a stretch.”

Truame cited national trends that suggest that people are marrying later and that, generally, the size of the family is declining.

Truame cautioned against superficial conclusions unsupported by data given the wide variety of possible influences for the trend.

“There are too many factors in that to say it’s linked to affordable housing,” she said. “There are all kinds of things that decide where you want to live.”

Are students to blame?

Truame was even more skeptical of the notion that the growth of students would be pushing families out of the city and county.

“I don’t think it’s because students are pushing families out; I think students are looking for different housing than families — that’s a broad generalization, but I don’t think there’s as much of a conflict between students looking for housing and families being pushed out as is the general perception,” she said.

While stressing that she doesn’t have data to prove the point precisely, Truame added that she believes the housing students are seeking is not the same housing that families are seeking.

“I don’t know if many families want to locate their families in the heart of Collegetown,” she said. “I don’t blame the students; I don’t think that’s the root of our affordability issue.”

Ithaca wants to appeal to families

Truame also said that the city wants to appeal to families — to bring in a mix of residents that doesn’t just include students.

“We want to be a family-friendly city,” she said. “Certainly, you want to see your demographics have a mix of all different type of households.”

She said it’s important for officials to uncover what’s causing the trend and act to take on the problem.

“If there’s something happening here that’s making the city less likely to be a place where families want to live, we’d like to address those issues,” she said.

Report details discrimination against families in Ithaca rental market

The data was compiled in a recently released study from Tompkins County’s Office of Human Rights. (That study has been cited by the Ithaca Voice in stories that can be found here and here.)

The report does not give a reason for the decline in families. But it does note that there’s discrimination against families in the renting process, citing the results of testers who — pretending to be real renters — asked for housing as part of the study.

One “Protected Tester,” for instance, asked a rental agent about living in an apartment complex near Cornell University. The tester told the rental agent that she was pregnant.

“Oh, we only rent to college students,” the agent replied, according to the housing study.

The study adds: “The Protected Tester was subsequently directed to a downtown apartment complex, with the agent suggesting, ‘They may have more flexibility in terms of tenants.’”

Of course, the incidence of housing discrimination against families in Collegetown does not mean that students are the cause of families leaving the city of Ithaca.

Could it be one factor? “Ithaca’s student-dominated rental market leads to the prevalence of discriminatory practices by local housing providers who screen out families with children in favor of single students for housing,” the report says.

“While a rental agent or landlord may believe they are expressing appropriate concern for a family with children, any action that denies the family an opportunity to obtained housing based on the presence of children may be discriminatory.”

The report also notes that of 34 housing discrimination complaints in the county between 2005 and 2014, about 17 percent of them were filed on the basis of “familial status.”

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Jeff Stein

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