ITHACA, N.Y.– Intentional or not, Ithaca’s neighborhoods are indisputably segregating by race. And – perhaps one of the more destructive outcomes of Ithaca’s housing crisis – white residents are moving away from neighborhoods that show signs of increased minority populations and moving instead into the neighborhoods that have steadily priced out minority populations.
Increasing rental prices directly affect the demographics of Ithaca’s neighborhoods, which is particularly evident with Ithaca’s historically discriminated minority populations – African Americans, Hispanics, and Asian Americans.
As median rent continues to skyrocket, white residents are moving into neighborhoods vacated by people of color, in turn sweeping Ithaca’s minority population away from places of prosperity convenience.
Ithaca’s African American population has traditionally resided in the Southside neighborhood, but that is changing. In 2000, 33 percent of African Americans living in Ithaca were living in the Southside neighborhood. Today, it has dropped to 27 percent. The West Hill neighborhood, on the other hand, comprised just 7 percent of the African American population in 2000, but in 2016 West Hill accounts for 16 percent of the total African American population in Ithaca City. The Belle Sherman & Bryant Park neighborhood has experienced a similar scenario as West Hill, where the African American population has increased by 104% during the past 16 years.
Importantly, the West Hill and Belle Sherman & Bryant Park neighborhoods share a distinctive feature: both neighborhoods are farther away from Ithaca’s city center when compared against other neighborhoods.
Living on the periphery of Ithaca means that basic services — such as community centers, child care services and bus depots — are farther away.
The shifting geographies of Ithaca’s ethnic groups are not limited to the African American community. Hispanics have experienced a similar pattern of movement between 2000 – 2016. West Hill and South Hill neighborhoods have the highest percentage of Hispanic influx during this time. In West Hill, the Hispanic population has increased by 174 percent. On South Hill the increase has been 101 percent.
With 66 percent of Ithaca’s Asian American population living in either East Hill or Belle Sherman & Bryant Park neighborhoods, Asian Americans are the most concentrated ethnic group in 2016. In fact, this percentage has not changed since 2000. What is interesting, is that Ithaca’s Asian American population has such a small footprint in so many neighborhoods – see below.
Finally, a good way to illustrate how all of this data comes together is to observe the movement of Ithaca’s white population between 2000 – 2016. During these years, only 1,169 Whites have moved into Ithaca City neighborhoods.
The three neighborhoods with the greatest increase in percentage change in White residents are the Downtown (22 percent), South Hill (16 percent), and West Hill (15 percent) neighborhoods. On the other side of the coin, the neighborhoods that are experiencing the smallest growth are Southside (-1 percent), Belle Sherman & Bryant Park (-3 percent), and Fall Creek (-10 percent) — meaning that these neighborhoods are losing the white population.
Demand for more affordable housing – with prices reflecting local wages and salaries, and commensurate with seniors living in place through retirement – is key to motivating the demographic shifts in Ithaca. When low-income populations are displaced by unaffordable rent, new populations move into the neighborhood. These new residents might have been displaced by skyrocketing rent, too.
Evaluating Ithaca’s housing crisis as a chain reaction – where one problem forces the next – is only one way to understand Ithaca’s housing problem.
Ithaca’s shifting demographics are not the cause of Ithaca’s housing crisis – far from it – instead, the tendency to gather together in racial enclaves is just one of the many symptoms highlighting Ithaca’s failure to provide adequate residence for the entire population.
Like a bursting dam, temporarily plugging the holes with a finger does not stop the flood of problems that are coming Ithaca’s way.