ITHACA, N.Y. — There’s a lot of talk about housing and development these days. Where it should go, what it should look like, rentals, owner-occupied, senior, affordable, how much should there be, and so on.

Tompkins County, to its credit, recognizes the evolving housing market. They want to get a grasp of the where, the why, and the how much. The last time the county completed a housing needs assessment, it was 2006, and the results were expected to be useful for about 8-10 years. So, with the 2006 document now more of a historic document than a useful one, and all the changes of the past decade, the county hired The Danter Company out of Ohio to conduct a new study to help shape local housing policies for the next decade.

The new study, formally called the “Tompkins County Housing Needs Assessment”, launched last December, and the results are starting to trickle out, with official release later this month. Today’s article will be about the housing survey that was conducted as part of the study. Some of you might even have taken the survey back in February; so let’s take a look at your results, and the results of 4,508 others.

That might be big piece of news number one – the number of responses far, far exceeded expectations. The county had hoped for several hundred, and having so much more to sift through was a fortunate problem that dragged out the study’s timeline a bit.

The Survey Stats

The respondents can be sorted into a few categories – those who live and work in Tompkins, those who live in Tompkins and work elsewhere (out-commuters), those who live elsewhere and work in Tompkins (in-commuters), retirees or unemployed, students, and people with second homes here. Not surprising, most of the responses were from people who live and work in the county, followed by students. 25.2% of survey takers were 55 or older, and 57% had spouses or partners.

Of the 886 students, 91.5% were Cornell, 8.4% were IC, and an almighty one participant went to TC3. Over 99% were full-time, more upperclassmen and grad students participated, and two-thirds of survey takers lived in off-campus rentals. For the 30% that lived on campus, they did so for the convenience to class and student life. Those who lived off-campus did so because it gave them independence and there were more choices. About 30.4% said they’d be very likely or somewhat likely to stay in the area after graduation, if they could find suitable employment.

Of the 3,172 permanent residents, 33.7% lived in Ithaca, and 19.4% in Ithaca town. That’s actually really fitting, since those are both close to their percentages of the county’s population. Dryden town and Lansing town made up about 8% each. About 43% of respondents lived in Tompkins County for 20 years or more, but the amount of time in their current home was across the board. About half lived in their current homes 5 years or less, about 38% 10 years or more. Two-thirds were located in the ICSD. For those who moved into Tompkins County, the majority did so for job or family reasons. 40% of those over age 45 want to retire here or have already done so, and 43% are unsure.

For those commuting in, Tioga County was the most popular source, with 24.4% of respondents, followed by Cortland County and Schuyler County. The average commute time was 16 minutes; 70% drive in, and 11% use the bus or do a park-and-ride. Over half work at Cornell. Of the 439 respondents to the question, 57.6% said that they would like to live in Tompkins County, with over 95% of them saying they want to be closer to work. The 42.4% who don’t want to move in most often said that they like their current home, or they would stay where they are for family reasons.

Now, onto housing itself. This includes 3,184 non-student county residents and 439 in-commuters. Two-thirds own their own houses. For renters, the median rent was $1,116/month. For homeowners, the average monthly house payment was $1,125. The proximity of housing to work, and the variety of choices were cited as the big positives; but 45.8% said housing was too expensive, another 11.6% said taxes were too high, and another 6.8% were bothered by how run-down the housing is. 0.4% (17 people) disliked “everything”.

For those looking to move into, or move around the county, green spaces, walking distance to work/amenities and off-street parking were cited as the most desirable features – although, seniors were very big on single-floor living. 70% of those surveyed want to own their own housing, with most preferring a single-family home (equally split between newer or older homes), and 33% expressing interest in condos. the city of Ithaca was the most popular choice for specific locations, and Groton village the least popular.

The Take-Aways

So that’s a sort of “fast facts”, a snapshot of local attitudes. The entire 167-page breakdown of the survey can be found here. From all of the numbers of stats, a few key issues can be derived. For one, folks agree that affordability is a pretty big issue – it hurts the quality of life for those living here, and keeps out those who commute-in but would like to move closer to work. Many people want to live in denser, walkable areas, but they also want detached houses and off-street parking, which aren’t easy balances.  Other major concerns to the survey takers included the ability to age comfortably, and economic opportunities for young people and families. These are all things to think about as we examine the housing study over the next couple weeks.

Brian Crandall

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