ITHACA, N.Y. — The signs are getting harder to ignore.
In front of city hall last winter, protesters decried the displacement of families from affordable housing in Ithaca’s West End to make way for a bank branch. Battles at planning board meetings have become routine, whether it be the uncomfortable prospect of students, or “uncivilized” affordable housing plans. Economic data paint an increasingly distressing picture of the region’s housing situation. Even the towns and villages are plagued with housing worries.
Ithaca and Tompkins County’s housing problems affect everyone. It can be an aunt or uncle who sees their rent or property taxes spiraling beyond their means, or a work colleague who commutes many miles because they can’t find affordable housing, or a friend’s grandmother who feels trapped on the first floor of her house and wants to move, but is afraid she can’t afford anything else.
It could be a cause or issue of personal interest, maybe helping the homeless or refugees, and watching organizations and advocacy groups struggle to find safe housing for vulnerable individuals and families. No one can truly escape the area’s housing woes, because they impact you either directly through your home and housing situation, or indirectly, through those you care about.
Thanks to the generosity of the Park Foundation, The Ithaca Voice will be hosting a special feature over the next several weeks, complementing our daily coverage – No Place To Call Home: Ithaca’s Housing Crisis. During this series, we will provide in-depth, encompassing coverage of how the community has entered this housing crisis, its impacts, and what can be done to solve it.
The situation is wide-reaching and multi-faceted, and therefore needs someone capable of identifying, summarizing and presenting the issues and solutions. For this complicated task, we’ve brought on writer Christopher Rondem as our feature contributor for this series. Chris was perusing his PhD in political science before moving to Ithaca and has a background in economics, which we feel will be a great combination for tackling this complex issue. He’s done a wide range of work from research and writing on economic and social issues in India, to working in municipal sustainability offices on land bank legislation. We at The Voice are pleased and excited to have him take the lead on this series.
Our series will delve into the following issues:
1 – An Identity in Crisis: Race and Culture
Let’s be clear – the widespread gentrification underway, and the loss of affordable housing options have impacts beyond rooftops and porches.
The impacts clearly worsen the economic inequality of the region, and groups that are disproportionately lower-income are left vulnerable – this can be certain racial groups, family structures, or occupations that tend to be lower-wage. As those groups are pushed out, their contributions to the identity of Ithaca — what helps makes this area unique — are at risk of being lost.
2 – A Place of Learning, A Place of Living
It is without a doubt that the region is fortunate to have Cornell, Ithaca College and Tompkins-Cortland Community College to provide the opportunity to live and learn here. However, the thousands of students they welcome into their halls also have very large impacts on the housing situation. We’ll take a look at just how the schools handle their housing needs, what they’re doing and not doing to meet those needs, and how these issues impacts the housing crisis.
3 – The Struggle to Age in Place
The dream of many mature residents who helped shape our communities’ look and feel is to happily and comfortably live out their sunset years in their own home. Yet for many, this proves to be a challenge – whether matters of affordability, accessibility, or geographic isolation. As part of this topic, we’ll look at the increasing population of seniors in Tompkins County, the risks they face, and what steps the county is taking to meet the needs of its most venerable residents.
4 – Is There Any Room For More?
Here, we attempt to address the often-philosophical question with practical answers: given quality of life concerns that come with more people and more housing, can the community really add more people and housing without harming those already here? We’ll identify the barriers to housing, the concerns with adding more housing, and what mitigation strategies and plans are at the community’s disposal.
It’s not clear if there is a real solution to the region’s housing woes. But there is great value in an informed public. By understanding the breadth of the problem, and the tools available to help Tompkins County and Ithaca meet the needs of their changing population, the community will be better prepared to take proactive, positive steps as it moves forward.
Featured photo by Jeff Lower