February 9, 2016

Tompkins County Creates Resident Housing Survey

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Planning Department launched a housing survey Wednesday to encourage people who live, work or study in Tompkins County to share their housing experiences and needs.

The survey, open through Feb. 22, is intended to give the county an updated understanding of the housing needs of the residents of the county, since its last housing needs assessment survey was taken 10 years ago.

Megan McDonald, senior planner of The Tompkins County Planning Department, said that this survey will expand upon the 2006 survey by providing data with “finer detail” of the local population.

The 2006 assessment gleaned light on a major trend in the Tompkins County housing market —  that the county’s population increase combined with slow housing unit growth, in addition to the decline in the number of persons per household, caused an increased need for housing development in urban areas within the county.

According to a 2006 report, the country is expected to add 5,600 net residents in the next decade.

Questions in the recent survey request residents’ income level, monthly housing payments, utilities covered by rent, location, household and employment. The survey also includes general inquiries regarding satisfaction and dissatisfaction with Tompkins County housing options.

“The survey fits in with the bigger project of the housing needs assessment as a tool to get direct input from people living, studying or working in county, to find what their needs and preferences are and to conduct a market analysis of the current housing situation to create a model for needs not just now but for the next 10 years,” MacDonald said. “The 2006 affordable needs assessment provided more general numbers, and in this survey we are looking more at different segments of the population, like students, seniors, people commuting from outside the city and people with special needs.”

The Planning Department seeks to accommodate specific demographics and lessen competition between different sectors of the population within the housing market by expanding the variety of housing options.

For example, there is an increased demand in options like  condos or townhouses with less maintenance and within a walkable neighborhood according to McDonald.

“Unfortunately we knew there was a gap in housing after the 2006 survey, especially for people in greater financial need. We have an aging population as well, so we’re looking at affordable housing options for them that are easier to age in, ”  McDonald said. “It will be great to see the needs of seniors, families and students so we can hopefully lessen the housing competition based on their individual needs by making improvements so that the population as a whole can find the housing they need.”

Once data is collected from the latest survey, “the Planning Department can update the housing strategy and create plans so people can find housing for the prices they need,” according to McDoanld.

For example, the housing needs report from 2006 resulted in the creation of a housing fund for low income individuals.

“One of the amazing things that came out of the assessment was the Housing Fund, now the Community Housing Development Fund, which partners the county, Cornell University and the City of Ithaca, where each contribute money to fund rehabilitation of affordable housing for people with income limitations,” she said.

The Planning Department intends to use the findings of its latest survey, once they have received all of their submissions, to instill lasting changes in the housing market. It also aims to  help its partner Cornell University, which is “gearing up to create a housing master plan,” according to McDonald.

“Once we finish our survey, we will also use data from other sources and put all of the information together to find where gaps are and what we need in the next 10 years,” she said. “When we know where gaps are we can start to have conversations with developers, realtors and the broader community to figure out what types of housing we need.”

Survey results will be summarized in a report in a report later this spring on current and future residential needs, according to McDonald.

“We need to find what is lacking in housing now and what we need going forward for people living here and for people who would live here if we had the appropriate housing,” she said.