From NIMBY to Neighbor: Affordable Housing Development in Tompkins County, NY
In August 2003, students in a course in the Department of City and Regional Planning began work on a housing needs assessment for Tompkins County within the framework of CRP 558, the City Planning Workshop. The workshop takes on the question of how Tompkins County can meet its current and future affordable housing needs. In the past year, affordable and multi-family housing proposals have experienced substantial resident hostility in three of the county's villages: Trumansburg, Groton, and Dryden. All three of these communities have the infrastructure to support dense development; they have regular transit service to Ithaca; and they have community services needed by people of moderate means. The housing proposals may have had other problems, but their affordability made them headline news and heightened conflict.
Local governments in New York State, unlike those in many other neighboring states, have few reasons not to yield to their residents' opposition to affordable housing. Builders who propose housing cannot, as in Massachusetts and Connecticut, appeal to a state authority when a jurisdiction with very little affordable housing denies a project. Nor are local governments required to plan, zone sites, and adopt programs to accommodate their "fair share" of their region's housing need, as in New Jersey and California.
A limited number of jurisdictions have taken responsibility for accommodating low-income residents of Tompkins County. The City of Ithaca is the region's center for affordable housing; many Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher users live in the Village of Groton; and the Town of Ithaca has recently approved, in three phases, a mixed-income project with several hundred units built by a for-profit developer who obtained low-income housing tax credits. Many of the county's low-income residents live in rural areas, often in mobile homes or deteriorating older housing, especially in less-regulated jurisdictions. Furthermore, rental housing is concentrated in a limited number of locations. Some low-income residents simply leave the county to find housing they can afford, commuting back to low-wage jobs with the county's major employers.
The workshop has two objectives that correspond to two deliverables:
- Assess key current and future (year 2010) housing needs in Tompkins County. The needs assessment will identify both the current resources and the gaps in those resources.
- Identify key constraints to meeting housing needs and develop recommended strategies that a variety of actors might adopt to overcome these constraints.
The work is aimed at two targeted policy actors. First, the Tompkins County Planning Department is currently working on its comprehensive plan; the workshop is intended to complement their work on the housing element of the comprehensive plan. Second, the County Legislature's Health and Human Services Committee, chaired by Martha Robertson, has taken on affordable housing as one of its main agenda issues.