April 28, 2005

Housing Commission Meets

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Last night, the recently revitalized Ithaca Rental Housing Advisory Commission held its first public forum at the Greater Ithaca Community Center. At the forum, landlords, tenants, students, community members, public representatives and affordable housing advocates, expressed a deep concern about housing issues in Ithaca.

David Breeden, commission chair, introduced the discussion by informing the people in attendance of the commission’s purpose, which is to “help the Common Council work on rental issues in the city”. Attendees were asked to consider and respond accordingly to the questions of what are the critical issues confronting renters, and what can the City of Ithaca do to help improve the overall quality of rental housing.

Community concerns touched upon a variety of issues ranging from the building department’s delayed response to tenant complaints to the unaffordability of rent in Ithaca to a lack of tenant voice within the community to the difficulties of low-income landlords.

“My experience with renting has been horrendous,” said Fay Gougakis, who has been renting in Ithaca since the early 1980s.

Many of the forum’s attendance expressed similar opinions, relying on personal experience to guide their comments.

An additional reoccurring topic of concern among many of the attendees was the prevalence of landlord discrimination towards Section 8 housing recipients. In Ithaca, many landlords openly refuse to rent to citizens receiving government vouchers. According to Al Fields of the Tompkins Community Action’s housing division, just this week, 25 of the 26 Section 8 recipients who sought housing were denied.

Another repeated topic of concern voiced by community members was the influence of Cornell on housing issues in Ithaca. Michael Taylor ’05, Common Council liaison to the commission, informed the attendants at the meeting of a report put forth by a Cornell commission on off-campus housing listing recommendations to “better help its students living off campus”.

However, forum attendees debated the reality of the projected positive effects of Cornell’s actions on the greater Ithaca community. In fact, community members attributed a portion of the housing problems in Ithaca to the lack of property tax at Cornell, and the living conditions endured by college students since they are generally renting short-term.

In addition to the concerns expressed, community members also put forth suggestions aimed at mitigating the various renting issues. Among these ideas were a database listing landlords who have received many tenant complaints, a central hotline for tenants to complain about landlord inefficiencies, a restaffing of the building department to its prior level, and getting Cornell more involved in community housing problems.

The event, which was originally planned as a series of small moderated discussions, immediately evolved into an open discussion in which attendees elected to change their seating arrangement from rows into a more colloquial circle.

The commission, which was dissolved in 1992, due to lack of citizen participation, was revived earlier this year by Mayor Carolyn K. Peterson. After four meetings, the commission decided to hold the public forum, which, according to commission member Joyce Muchan, was intended to “figure out what we should be doing and we don’t want to do it without the voices of the community.”

Taylor said that the rental housing commission plans to follow up the forum by reviewing the notes taken at the meeting, prioritizing the community concerns, and creating a “working report to achieve some of the objectives that the community has given us”.

Commission members were pleased with the forum’s turnout, especially by breadth of community groups represented.

“We have a lot of work cut out for us. We need a lot of support,” said committee member Phoebe Brown.

Brown’s view was mirrored by the commission’s repeated emphasis on the need for increased community membership, especially among landlords.

Archived article by Katie Pollack
Sun Staff Writer