Ithaca City Hall. (Kelsey O'Connor/Ithaca Voice)
This is a letter to the editor from Ann Sulivan, Ithaca. To submit opinion letters, please review our letters policy here and submit them to Managing Editor Thomas Giery Pudney at tgpudney@ithacavoice.com.

Tonight, Common Council votes on an ordinance on attached (ADUS) and detached dwelling units (DADUS) and multiple primary dwellings.

Most Ithacans support ADUS and DADUS. They solve housing issues for multi-generational families and allow property owners to earn added income. I live within a five-minute walk of three ADUS in my East Hill neighborhood. These houses sell as well as any other property in my neighborhood. I look forward to seeing Ithaca codify DADUS into law.

In its current form, however, the Ordinance will have unforeseen and harmful outcomes. Council must address these issues.

Short Term Rentals: Short term rentals like Airbnb have cannibalized the Ithaca housing market, removing hundreds of units from long term rentals. Councilman Murtagh indicated that the issue of short term rentals will be dealt with “later.” “Later” is too late. One-third of DADUS built in Portland, Oregon are short term rentals. Progressive cities like Berkeley take steps to ensure that these units are not unregulated mini-hotels owned by absentee property investors.

No Consideration of Tree Conservation: Ithaca lacks a tree ordinance that safeguards these carbon sinks, sources of shade and oxygen and that provide an essential part of our storm drainage system. Unless a tree ordinance is codified in an ADU and DADU ordinance, property developers can clear cut lots with impunity.

Eliminating the Owner Occupancy Requirement: Only 26% of our residences are owner-occupied. Recently, property investors throughout the city have outbid potential buyers for houses, often planning to renovate them or even level them for expensive rentals. Opening up neighborhoods like East Hall to ADUS and DADUS as investment properties will roil the housing market further. Property investors operate under different rules than individuals, deducting all of their property taxes and maintenance expenses and claiming depreciation. I find it baffling Council might tilt the playing field even more to the advantage of investors against individuals who want to buy a home here. How much of Ithacans’ rents will flow to absentee landlords with little connection to the City or to neighborhoods like South Hill and East Hill?

Mayor Myrick advocates that Ithaca retain its small stock of owner-occupied homes. His argument that Collegetown rezoning would preserve the adjacent neighborhood as a walkable neighborhood where residents could buy a house convinced me to support the change. Removing the owner-occupancy requirement will make East Hill’s houses even more valuable to property investors.

Wanting to retain the owner-occupancy rule is not anti-renter. East Hill remains one of the most economically and ethnically diverse in Ithaca. Belle Sherman School is a model of inclusivity. Councilors Smith and Murtagh might think an owner-occupancy rule is discriminatory, but they live in wards that house many of Ithaca’s most affluent residents in City Centre and Collegetown Crossing. A $3500 a month rental for a two-bedroom apartment in Ithaca is de facto discriminatory, not an owner-occupancy requirement in a neighborhood fighting off predatory real estate investors.

I hope a revised ordinance sails through Council. This very flawed product now before Council, however, fails us. Privileging investors over those seeking a modest home to buy or rent, the ordinance will further gentrify neighborhoods, shutting out both potential buyers and renters unable to pay exorbitant rents.

Ithacans can urge the Mayor and City Council to reject the ordinance is in its current form at Council@cityofithaca.org

Ann Sullivan

Ithaca