June 24, 2010

Tompkins County embarking on housing binge?

I'm really marveling - gasping for air, actually - at this bit in an article on West Hill fire response:

Town board member Rich DePaolo asked how an increase of 4,000 residents around the hospital would affect calls for service, and if more equipment and personnel might be needed. Developments which may be proposed for West Hill are estimated to put between 2,000 and 6,000 residents in the square mile around the hospital, he added.

That's just West Hill - I know of another proposal in the City of Ithaca, Collegetown Terrace, that would almost double a development from 637 current beds to 1260 beds, and there seems to be a lot more activity in the City of Ithaca as well. (The county's population is around 100,000, and Dryden's around 14,000.)

I'm thoroughly confused as to why Tompkins County seems to be preparing for a massive housing binge just as the nation as a whole is trying to recover from one. It makes me wonder again about the business sanity of the proposed Varna II.

I'm a little happier with a Town of Ithaca proposal to study "nodal development and whether it could really work". I've been ever more skeptical of this idea, and I'm happy to see that question at least asked.

Posted by simon at June 24, 2010 5:14 PM in ,
Note on photos


Tom Shelley said:

Simon--Ed Marx, of our County Commissioner of Planning, states that the county will need 6,000 new housing units in the next ten years. This is due partially to the "retirement community" aspect of the area. Perhaps the Marcellus Shale gas drilling will put a dampener on development and slow down he request for new housing. Right now, it is being sold and occupied as rapidly as it is being built, or so it seems. The recession as not had the same effect on the local housing market as it has had nationwide. Tom

The 2006 Housing Needs Assessment done for the County (endorsed by the Legislature in 2007) estimated that Tompkins County needed 3,894 more housing units by 2014. About 2/3 of those needed to be affordable to people at the median household income level, and a little more than 1/3 needed to be affordable to people at 50% of that median.

(It's available at www.tompkins-co.org/planning/documents/HNA.pdf.)

There are two main problems with those findings. First, the numbers are fairly simple projections in a study that is more about the need for affordable housing than for housing generally. Second, all of these calculations were done at a time before the housing market took a turn for the dark.

Tompkins County has remained relatively stable, but major employers have not exactly been enthusiastic about hiring lately and don't show signs of going on any kind of a binge that would match this growth. It's fortunate that the recession hasn't been as severe here - but it's been substantial enough that I don't think 2006 numbers are still plausible.

Krys Cail said:

I agree that the major issue here is a housing affordability one. Our area had less housing bust than elsewhere because of our banking/mortgage habits as much as because of local job and economy stability. I can remember an interactive NYTimes map of sub-prime mortgage % by town and county- Tompkins' towns had remarkably low figures, as did the city.
If the mix of the people who live in the community is going to continue to trend toward wealthy retirees, then the source of income will have less to do with local jobs and more to do with investment income from elsewhere. We have choices on all this, too-- that's what planning is for.