April 8, 2014

Ithacans Share Concerns Over Affordability of Tompkins County Housing

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The Tompkins County Democratic Committee held a forum to discuss the growing concerns of home affordability in the county at Ithaca Town Hall Tuesday.

At the forum, which was held by the issues committee of the Tompkins Democratic Committee, a panel of experts and Ithacans spoke about costs for transportation, energy and real property taxes in terms of their effect on housing affordability.

Peter Meyers — one of the founders of the Tompkins County Workers’ Center — said Tompkin County and New York residents currently allocate a significant percentage of their income to housing. Based on the cost of housing, data shows that the living wage needs to be raised, according to Meyers.

Meyers said he was “shocked and astounded” that 43 percent of households in Tompkins pay more than 30 percent of their income while 30.2 percent pay 50 percent or more.

Jay Franklin — director of assessment for Tompkins county — said property taxes continue to increase at a rate of 3.57 percent per year, which he said is based off the uniform market and is reflected in his assessments.

Tompkins County is limited in its ability to regulate property taxes because it is at the bottom of both the federal and local “chain,” according to Franklin. He added those higher up in this chain should be more responsible for paying their own share.

Monica Moll — co-owner of Moll Properties — said the problem with housing affordability is the constantly rising expenses from property taxes and the inability to respond without raising rent.

“The biggest problem in housing affordability is constantly rising expenses, including property taxes,” Moll said. “We can’t increase our inventory based on economic atmosphere.”

According to Moll, her business operates on very small margins in a “number game” where an increase in rent is necessary to deal with increase in expenses. She said that the largest expenses are “stable” mortgage payments and “steadily raising” property taxes.

In addition, Moll said that a higher assessment should not equate to higher tax bills. She said legislators need to do more to fix the high property tax problem.

“If we want to get a grip on problem, look at legislative budgets. They need to do more with less,” Moll said. “Property taxes are the only way legislators feel that they can raise revenue, but there are other ways.”

Franklin said that he believes that in order to see a significant decrease in property taxes, states need to take more responsibility for paying for some of their expenses that the county is currently responsible for paying.

“If states paid their own bill, by taking care of the four biggest expenses that they make the county pay, it would go a long way to reducing property taxes,” Franklin said.

Dee Gamble, a member of Taitem Engineering and Cornell Cooperative Extension, also said that there is a real need to address energy costs to deal with problems in housing affordability.

In regard to the fact that Cornell’s property carries state-mandated tax exemption, Franklin said that the land would be worth a lot less without the University due to the benefits it provides to the community as far as employing people and contributing in other ways to the city.

Describing the relationship between Cornell and the city as “symbiotic,” Moll said that while Cornell contributes to the Ithaca community through employment, the University also need the Ithaca community to attract potential students by presenting itself in a good light.