ITHACA, N.Y.—Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services celebrated the official opening of its latest project, Founders Way, with a ribbon cutting on Nov. 4.

Located at 320 West Buffalo Street where Immaculate Conception Church was previously located, Founders Way offers 75 units of rental housing for residents making 30%-100% of the area median income.

Johanna Anderson, executive director at INHS, began the ceremony by welcoming the crowd of more than 60 attendees including representatives of both the City of Ithaca and Tompkins County, plus representatives from the Greater Ithaca Activities Center (GIAC) and the general supporting public.

“The development of Founders Way involved a rehab and adaptive reuse of one wing of the former Immaculate Conceptions School, as well as the demolition and replacement of another creating the main building,” Anderson said.

Also participating in the ribbon-cutting were New York State Assemblymember for the 125th District Anna Kelles; Tompkins County Legislator Anne Koreman; City of Ithaca Acting Mayor Laura Lewis; GIAC Director Leslyn McBean-Clairborne; Founders Way Resident Stella Avcisoy; INHS Founding Board Member Matthys Van Cort and Assistant Commissioner of New York State Homes & Community Renewal Leonard Skrill.

The $27 million project includes townhomes along Buffalo and Court Streets, 13 units set aside for individuals and families moving out of homelessness, nonresidential space for The Learning Webb and the Village at Ithaca and additional offices for GIAC.

Of the 75 units, there are seven studio apartments, 34 one-bedrooms, 23 two-bedrooms, 10 three-bedrooms and one four-bedroom.

“One of the things I’ve learned in studying how to build community is that you don’t segregate people out. You don’t put low income housing in one place, and market-rate housing in another place. You don’t separate out an entire community that you’re building from the downtown business district or public transportation,” Kelles said. “I think it’s really important that we all celebrate today and see what it means and what it looks like when an entity like INHS does exactly that.”

Koreman shared an anecdote about the affordable housing project that she grew up in that was removed from the downtown community in Albany.

“What I saw was the highway, and a bus came through twice a day, so not ideal circumstances,” she said. “We want to include more people, we want diversity. Our communities are better for it. This project demonstrates what is possible when individuals and institutions work together toward a shared vision.”

Lewis said that she is grateful for INHS’ work throughout the city.

“I am thrilled to see the opening of Founders Way — this represents a whole neighborhood in our city, where people will be able to live close to schools, close to work, close to transit,” she said.

McBean-Clairborne said that she is a proud owner of an INHS house, and that she knows what it means to have access to affordable housing. “Thank you INHS for repurposing the school into affordable, quality housing for our community.”

Resident Stella Avcisoy, a homeowner of one of the townhouses at Founders Way, spoke about how her adult son will soon be moving into one of the supportive housing units that is also part of the project. “I am proud to say my family lives here at Founders Way. […] INHS not only builds homes for families, they also keep them together.”

Van Cort, also the former Director of Planning and Development for Ithaca, said that INHS was founded because a group of people was concerned about the condition of housing in downtown Ithaca neighborhoods.

“INHS bought the worst houses in these neighborhoods and rehabilitated them and then sold them to neighborhood residents to combat displacement and gentrification,” he said.

In a press release, Gov. Kathy Hochul said that “We are creating new opportunities for families to improve their lives and build a better, safer future, and Founders Way will provide many New Yorkers with the housing they deserve.” Now, Founders Way can help the city’s continued revitalization efforts by providing affordable homes and a place where residents can receive the support and services they need to thrive.”

Zoë Freer-Hessler

Zoë Freer-Hessler is a general assignment reporter for the Ithaca Voice. She has covered a wide range of topics since joining the news organization in November 2021. She can be reached at zhessler@ithacavoice.com...