Dozens attended the Ithaca Affordable Housing Panel, hosted by Cornell Roosevelt Institute, which featured three panelists from different areas of housing in Ithaca. The panel was organized in response to students’ difficulties in finding off-campus housing.
The three panelists hailed from Cornell’s Office of Off-Campus Living, Second Wind Cottages, a nonprofit that builds homes for the homeless and Neighborhood Housing Services, which develops affordable housing units.
Denise Thompson, the University’s Off-Campus Living Manager, regularly sees students struggling with off-campus housing. Thompson’s work addresses all students, faculty and staff who live off-campus.
Since she started working at Cornell 13 years ago, Thompson said she noticed the housing rush pushed earlier and earlier in the school year, from November or December to as soon as students return to campus for the fall semester.
Both students and landlords perpetuate a myth about finding housing, Thompson said. Students can find housing later in the school year, according to Thompson, who said that it is a matter of students deciding between what they need and what they want.
“I have many students that live in housing they cannot afford because their friends talked them into it,” Thompson said.
The City of Ithaca offers a property search option where people can check if a building has a Certificate of Compliance, which is issued if a building meets the minimum standard of safety required by city regulations after inspection. All dwellings are required to have this certificate.
The Sun previously reported about a student housing incident where the landlord failed to have an up-to-date certificate; the student ended up spending some nights sleeping in a library.
Off-Campus Living provides students and landlords with a rental listing service, where landlords can list their properties for a $30 fee and students can list sublets for free.
“We found that some landlords won’t list with us because they don’t need to,” Thompson said. “We’ve also found that some landlords won’t list with us because they just can’t get the certificate of compliance.”
Cornell does not represent or directly interfere with students undergoing off-campus housing because it would hold Cornell in “huge liability” and “jeopardize” the University, according to Thompson, who said that students have the “responsibility” to ensure their housing is safe and reasonable.
What did Thompson recommend to students? To read their leases carefully.
“If there’s a disclaimer in your lease or something that sounds funny, you should think twice about it,” Thompson told students in G64 Goldwin Smith Hall.
Beyond student housing, the panel also addressed housing difficulties facing the whole city. Because of high housing prices in Ithaca, some people who work in Ithaca live outside the city, and even outside Tompkins County. Thompson, for example, lives an hour away by car.
Johanna Anderson the executive director of Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services, said that she also struggled to find housing in Ithaca.
When Anderson was trying to buy a house, she said she found herself out-bidded by wealthier people who made offers for houses in cash, rather than take out bank loans as Anderson did. Now, Anderson is moving out of Tompkins County altogether.
Sun columnist Giancarlo Valdetaro ’21, who organized the panel, was surprised by the panelists’ positive views on Cornell’s impact on the Ithaca community.
Carman Guidi, founder of Second Wind Cottages, praised the Cornell and Ithaca College volunteers who helped build cottages with her company. Anderson said she viewed the University as a stabilizing force that boosts the local economy.
“I thought that there might be more critiquing of Cornell’s impact on the housing market. It’s interesting to know that in the minds of policy makers, it’s not that huge of a concern,” Valdetaro told The Sun.
The panel was organized after reporting from The Sun highlighted Cornell students’ housing difficulties, according to Valdetaro. The panel was extended to include experts from the Ithaca area, although no landlords agreed to join the panel.