ITHACA, N.Y. — Here’s an interesting statistic from the last Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency (IURA) meeting – the breakdown of approximate locations of folks on the Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services (INHS) wait-list.

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The wait-list exists simply because there’s much greater demand than supply – for those seeking an affordable to place to live, the choices are moving into a new unit when it gets built, or waiting until an existing unit becomes available.

In recent years, the trend has been towards a longer wait-list, and greater demand for smaller units, particularly seniors in search of affordable one-bedroom apartments. Meanwhile, demand for three and four-bedroom family units has declined, enough that they were eliminated from the 210 Hancock apartment building in favor of one and two-bedroom units.

According to the data given to the IURA, 48% of wait-listed applicants live in the city of Ithaca, 38% live outside of Ithaca but somewhere within Tompkins County, 8% live in other counties of New York State, and 6% come from outside the state. Counting the markers and doing the math, the back-of-the-envelope calculation comes out to about 160 households.

The maps implicitly describe the wealth of Ithaca’s neighborhoods – an increased number of applicants for affordable apartments come from South Side, the West Village area, and Northside in the city. Further out in the county, clusters of applicants are coming from Dryden village and the apartment complexes in Lansing village. In contrast, wealthier areas like Fall Creek, East Hill and Belle Sherman have very few or no individuals on the wait list.

Asked about the data, INHS Executive Director Paul Mazzarella commented that many applicants on the wait-list take themselves off because they find alternative housing arrangements, or their housing needs change. He also pointed out that although INHS treats applications from long-time locals and newcomers equally, most of the applicants come from the greater Ithaca area.

“One of the pervasive myths about affordable housing is that when new housing is built, it attracts people from outside our community to live in that housing.  The data presented on the maps shows that that is not the case, as the vast majority of applications are from people already living in this area,” said Mazzarella.

Now it’s time to ask a more uncomfortable question – even if the percentage of wait-listed from outside Tompkins is only 14%, is it appropriate to treat locals and newcomers equally in the affordable housing application process?

Mazzarella was clear that INHS sees it as a fair housing issue. “The fact that someone is a local versus a newcomer does not rise to the level of being considered a protected class under these laws, but we still consider this to be an issue of fairness. I think that it is also reasonable to expect that some people will be moving here from other places for a variety of different reasons ranging from jobs to family, and that they will be seeking housing in this area.”

As for the amount of time a typical applicant spends on the wait-list, Mazzarella declined to provide specifics, saying that it varies considerably, depending on what an applicant is looking for in location, number of bedrooms and special needs accessibility.

The next time someone says affordability isn’t an issue, think of each marker on this map, and remember that’s someone, maybe even a whole family, hoping to find decent, affordable housing.

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Brian Crandall

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