President’s Letter: Housing in Tompkins County

Jennifer Tavares, CEcD, President and CEO

Housing in Tompkins County: We have fresh data, now we need a fresh strategy

Many recent conversations in Tompkins County have been dominated by our current housing market crisis. There are affordability issues at all income levels; low vacancy rates in some areas and high in others; location and distance traveled to work; supply not meeting demand; supply not meeting quality or size expectations based on expected rents, and many other woes.

Our housing market challenges impact many families in Tompkins County. In turn, they impact our employers (business, municipal, and non-profit included). They impact our environmental footprint, and our ability to make significant progress towards meeting aggressive carbon emission reduction goals. New data and a new housing strategy was and is desperately needed to alleviate some of the stress on the county’s residents.

The fresh Housing Needs Assessment and modeling tool commissioned of the Danter Company by the Tompkins County Planning Department, with an add-on study commissioned by the Downtown Ithaca Alliance, sought to accomplish a few tasks:

  • Get fresh data, which can be interpreted and included in an updated housing strategy
  • Provide a better understanding of Downtown Ithaca market needs and growth potential
  • Better understand the housing needs of residents and in-commuters and students
  • Create a modeling tool, which can be altered over a ten year period of time to adjust for real-time market changes (such as new housing projects and student beds added)
  • Better understand some specific market subsets: single family homes, apartment complexes, condos, senior housing options, and student housing
  • Compare our local housing market with peer markets of similar size with similar factors

Some of the data shared by consultants—based on the responses of over 4,500 survey respondents and United States Census information—is informative, if not startling. Noteworthy snippets I’ve picked up on over a couple of presentations which do impact our housing market, and will impact our market in the next ten years, include:

  • Employment, not including student employment, is projected to grow nearly 6,000 more jobs in the next ten years (from estimated 56,353 in 2015 to an estimated 62,142 in 2025)
  • Population, students excepted, is only projected to grow just shy of 2,000 residents (from 75,436 in 2015 to 77,303 in 2025).
  • 25% of our workforce consists of in-commuters; peer market comparison number is closer to 12-14% of workforce
  • Of retirees responding who plan to retire in the next ten years, only 18% of them intend to leave Tompkins County; the population over 65 will grow by 44% between 2010 and 2020
  • Projected deficits for retiree and senior housing today are approximately 250 units today, and anticipated to grow to over 750 units by 2025.
  • Projected deficit of single home construction is currently 60 homes annually (sustainable build based on demand is 225 homes; housing starts are at approximately 160)
  • Anticipated demand for new units in Downtown Ithaca is between 180 and 225; with a projection of 900-1000 new units of various types over five years
  • 22% of survey respondents moved back to Tompkins County after living elsewhere
  • 30% of student survey respondents indicated they would like to stay in Ithaca/Tompkins County to live, if they found appropriate employment and housing
  • Our housing market is “overpriced by 53% compared to our peer markets, and we are not providing the product that people want (according to consultant Ken Danter)

There are very unique housing market opportunities here, but taking advantage of those won’t necessarily solve all of our problems. We need a multi-pronged strategy that will address the needs of each market sector and each socio-economic category where our supply is not meeting demand. Community leaders, planners, residents, and many others will work over the next many months to interpret the data and survey results; consider realistic and achievable housing development goals and strategies which align with the County’s comprehensive plan and other municipal comp plans—and that will also help achieve, or at least not deter progress on, aggressive climate goals.

Look for information in the next month or so about a Housing Summit – an opportunity for municipal officials, planners, real estate developers, economic developers, community leaders, and residents to gather, discuss our challenges and opportunities, and engage experts from other markets where innovative projects and unique solutions have been implemented through collaborations between municipalities, developers, and educational institutions.

This fresh information is not necessarily a call to action—but it provides a baseline for what’s happened since the last study. It helps us understand the several distinguishable market components in Tompkins County better, and hopefully, will support the many brilliant minds in this community in developing a strategy which addresses our challenges, captures opportunities, and creates a housing market which works for more people.

Explore the draft documents and special reports here on the Tompkins County Housing Needs Assessment website:

Links to in-depth analysis from the Ithaca Voice’s Brian Crandall can be found here:

Part I:

Part II:

Part III:

Part IV: