The Tompkins County Housing Strategy

18 05 2017

The County’s Housing Strategy draft was originally going to be in the next news roundup, but it’s large enough to do separately, and my colleague Kelsey is tackling this meeting for the Voice. For those who couldn’t attend the Housing Strategy hosted by the county last Wednesday evening, the presentation is here and the outline is here. Comments can be sent to the Planning Department here from now through the end of the month.

First, quantities. This was touched on in the news round-up a couple of weeks ago, but the county would like at least 580 units coming online each year, plus specialty student and senior housing. For comparison’s sake, the county hasn’t exceeded that value since 1994, when Kendal was permitted in Cayuga Heights, and prior to 2016, the last time it exceeded 500 units was in 2000.

In more recent years, the value bounced between 200 and 300 units in a given year; during the recession, it dropped into the mid-100s. The article linked above is older, so it lacks the 2015 values, which were 279 units countywide, consistent with 2012-2014. Then we get to 2016, which was just finalized by HUD. There were 575 units, of which 121 were single-family homes, and 454 were multi-family structures. Let’s present that by community (click on the table to expand):

Cayuga Heights and Freeville didn’t approve a single unit, while the 271 units in Ithaca city is their highest stat since 2000, and the second highest in the 35-year online record. Dryden village’s growth can be attributed to Poet’s Landing Phase II, Ithaca town’s to Cayuga Meadows, and Lansing town’s to the Village Solars.

The point of this is to illustrate that 580 units annually is a lofty figure, but it is an attainable goal.

Then we get to locations. The ideal is to focus the growth in the city of Ithaca – since these stats are non-student housing, the targeted areas in the city include Downtown, the State Street Corridor, West End/Waterfront, and anything they can displace from the big box corridor on the southwest side. If a good opportunity for infill presents itself elsewhere in the city, that’s great, but it’s not the focus.

However, not everyone wants to live in Ithaca. Land in the “nodes” is cheaper and oftentimes the approvals process is easier. The county envisions 50-100 in the villages and growing hamlets like Varna and South Lansing, were a town center concept is in the RFP review process. Rural hamlets would see a handful of units annually (30 or less), and other locations basically just refers to Lansing’s suburban sprawl between the village and South Lansing. The town is hellbent on development any which way it happens, conventional approaches are the easiest to get financed, and the county’s not going to fight them.

The county’s housing strategy is three-pronged: Information/Collaboration, New Units and Existing Units.

  • Information and Collaboration includes a virtual housing office for resources and a collaborative network to formulate and pitch housing solutions. It’s kinda vague in the notes.
  • New unit strategies include support for targeted new development, streamlining zoning and examining potential incentives through the IDA.
    • Targeted new development can include RFQs for government-owned surplus property, early community engagement regarding DFAs (Development Focus Areas) and assistance in producing “shovel-ready” sites through things such as sewer access and energy hookups.
    • Streamlining zoning is to make it easier to get an initial product that will look like the final product – less uncertainty, less money spent on revisions. Inclusionary zoning seems pretty much dead in the water, as the county doesn’t seem to know if the community will support incentives for affordable housing, or if will even be effective. Done wrong, an inclusionary ordinance could actually result in less housing, if the burden is too great for the incentives offered.
    • Additional IDA incentives could include mixed-market or all-affordable rentals being eligible for abatements, and possible an abatement for any neighborhood or community who builds in inclusionary zoning. Looking at you, Trumansburg.
  • Existing unit strategies include the encouragement of rehabs (especially from rentals to owner-occupied), code enforcement and fair housing enforcement. Airbnb is still a tricky issue, so expect some tweaks to regulations on what constitutes rentals, hotels and legal occupancy.

There’s also a strong support/monitoring component in the strategy, which basically is a tracker of all projects underway, what stages, what they consist of, and so on. Beat you to the punch guys.


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2 responses

22 05 2017
CS PhD

I’d say that “match enrollment growth” is also a pretty “lofty figure” for student housing beds. As this blog itself has pointed out before, Cornell keeps shoveling in more and more students without any plan to house them, and the growth in students seeking off-campus housing has outpaced growth in available student rentals for years now. Does the city have any plans to address this problem, or is its plan to focus on non-student housing and leave Cornell to clean up its own mess?

22 05 2017
B. C.

Honestly, the city doesn’t have much of a plan. I don’t think they want to push Cornell to cap its student population for economic reasons and questions of bureaucratic overreach (worth noting, Cornell has much influence on the state level). At this point, the city and county are kinda hoping Cornell can solve its own problem, through East Hill Village and the proposed new north campus housing.

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