TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y. — To keep up with the demand for housing, Tompkins County wants to add at least 4,000 units over the next eight years, according to the draft Tompkins County Housing Strategy.

Addressing the housing crisis has been a major focus in Tompkins County in recent years. Now that the county has assessed what is needed, the Housing Strategy is a way to move forward and beginning addressing issues of affordability, availability and quality of homes and rentals.

Interested in housing? Explore our in-depth series, “No Place to Call Home.”

The strategy draws on the county’s Comprehensive Plan, the 2015-16 Housing Needs Assessment, the fall Housing Summit and other input from local leaders and the community. Now the community has a chance to provide further input until May 31.

The Housing Needs Assessment released last year showed a high demand for rental units between $800 and $1,300 per month and ownership units under $250,000.

The assessment also showed that about 1,500 in-commuter households (meaning they commute into Tompkins County for work) are planning to move in the next 10 years and would like to live in rural areas, villages or suburban areas of Tompkins County.

Enrollment continues to grow at Cornell University and Ithaca College, and students currently occupy 58 percent of large apartment property units.

According to the Housing Needs Assessment, the housing market is driven by employment, student enrollment, aging population and preference for walkability and transportation options.

Megan McDonald, senior planner in the Tompkins County Department of Planning and Sustainability, presented the housing strategy to the public Wednesday.

McDonald said while the county does not build housing, it can work with people and help with proposals that meet housing needs.

“We need housing that better matches up with the needs of our community,” McDonald said at the presentation. “Hopefully will move quickly to implementation stage.”

Breaking down the strategy

Tompkins County needs to add 580 workforce units per year plus student beds, senior housing and special needs beds, McDonald said.

From the Housing Strategy presentation.

The number of units will be a high goal to reach, but is not unattainable. Over the past few years, the number of housing units permitted in Tompkins County has been in the range of 100 to 300 units. However in 2016, there were 575 units permitted, according to HUD data.

Related: The Tompkins County Housing Study, Part III: What the numbers are saying

As part of the presentation, McDonald broke down where all these units might be added per year.

  • Urban core — 350 units/year
  • Established and emerging nodes — 50 to 100 units/year
  • Rural centers — 30 units/year
  • Other locations — 100 to 150 units/year

The county breaks down its approach to get the desired amount of housing into three parts: information and collaboration, new housing units and existing housing units.

Here is the direct breakdown from the draft housing strategy:

Information and Collaboration

  • Housing Solutions Collaborative
  • Virtual “Housing Office” – web-based inventory of existing housing resources and programs
  • Partners’ activities to extend the reach of this strategy

New Housing Units

  • Support Targeted New Development
    • Engage community in preliminary planning to determine appropriate development on sites
    • Infill site analysis for potential infill or redevelopment sites within Development Focus Areas (DFAs)
    • Assist in getting projects in DFAs with strong potential to meet housing needs to shovel-ready state
    • Solicit developers for key sites through RFQ process
    • Community Housing Development Fund – increase funding, supporting members
    • Local Development Corporation (LDC) focused on housing – research potential for County role
  • Zoning
    • County work with municipalities to streamline process for desired projects in desired locations
    • Updating zoning to encourage housing needed in Development Focus Areas
    • Incentive and inclusionary zoning – determine if effective and politically feasible
  • Incentives
    • IDA abatements for rental housing (affordable units and mixed income)
    • Research other possible incentives (could be included in incentive zoning)

Existing Housing Units

  • Code enforcement – explore potential for County involvement with local municipalities
  • Rehab/transitioning of some student rental units to workforce rental and ownership housing
  • Fair Housing – consider prohibition of source of income discrimination, enhancement of other efforts
  • Airbnb – further analysis of housing impacts and need for local regulation

Check out the full Powerpoint and Draft Housing Strategy here.

Members of the public have until May 31 to comment. Submit comments to the planning department. Contact information here.

Contributor Brian Crandall contributed reporting to this article.

Photo of 201 College Ave. by Brian Crandall.

Kelsey O'Connor

Kelsey O'Connor is the managing editor for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at and follow her on Twitter @bykelseyoconnor.