COMPASS II-2.0 Housing Key Findings

Shortage of Affordable Housing

The shortage of affordable housing continues to be a significant issue in Tompkins County with 68.7% of residents indicating it was a critical issue in their community. Only 42.5% of residents agreed that their community has sufficient housing for everyone who needs it. Over 91% of key informants cited affordability as a critical problem. Many residents commented that the presence of the college students drives up the rental costs in the City of Ithaca. Others noted that more affordable housing is available in the rural areas, but requires transportation.

HousingAn important indicator of housing affordability is the ratio of housing costs to income. In Tompkins County, 28% of homeowners in Tompkins County and 56% of renters spend more than 30% of their income on housing. In the household survey, nearly 30% of respondents indicated that they spend more than half of their income on housing costs. This was an increase from 21% in 2003. Additionally, 28% of survey respondents also indicated that not having enough money for to pay for housing costs was a critical problem.

Vacancy rates for both homeownership (.3%) and rentals (2.5%) are low in Tompkins County. This shortage of housing leads to both higher demand and higher prices. Over 16% of residents indicated not being able to find a new place to live was a critical problem, and almost 20% said not being able to afford to move to a new place was a critical problem. Several respondents commented that any housing that was affordable was in bad shape.

Housing status has a significant impact on whether respondents reported having their lives disrupted by
frequent moves
as a problem:

Owners 2.9%
Renters 26.7%
No home 60.0%

The survey also reveals that more rural residents (27.9%) than urban residents (20.1%) said that having their family disrupted by frequent moves was a critical problem in their household within the past year. 27% of renters and 60% of respondents with no home noted a critical problem in having their lives disrupted by frequent moves.

The Tompkins County Planning Department conducted a Renters Survey in 2008. The results of the survey showed that nearly 42% of respondents said that it was either very or somewhat difficult to find an acceptable apartment or house to rent, but nearly 88% said that the housing was affordable to them.

Affordable housing development is a serious need in the county, but continues to face several obstacles. Information from stakeholder interviews and key informant comments suggest that local resistance to development has stalled projects. Expensive infrastructure needs increase the cost of development, and zoning continues to remain a barrier.

Substandard Housing

Nearly 53% of residents and 59% of key
informants said substandard housing was a critical problem in their community. Most comments referenced substandard rental units. Many felt this was driven by college students being willing to pay premium prices for substandard housing and landlords unwilling to fix properties. A little more than a quarter of residents indicated that they were living in housing that needs major repairs - significantly more rural residents (27.9%) than urban residents (20.0%) reported the problem.

Of the 22,218 total houses in the county:

1.1% are in Poor Condition
6.1% are in Fair Condition
Source: Tompkins County Assessment Dept.

Overcrowded Housing

Overcrowded housing was perceived as a critical problem by 29% of residents and 19% of key informants. Census data (American Community Survey, 2006-2008) indicates that 98.2% of occupied housing units have 1.00 or less occupants per room.

Household Energy Costs

Housing Energy Costs72% of residents and 79% of key informants reported that household energy costs were a critical problem in their community, and 28% of households said not having enough money to pay for utilities was a problem in their households. In particular, heating costs were identified as difficult to afford. Rural residents were much more likely (76.7%) to say that household energy costs were a critical problem in the community than urban residents (63.8%). The Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP) caseload in Tompkins County saw an increase of over 65% between 2007 and 2009 (source: NYS ODTA).


Tompkins County has several problem-solving initiatives in place to increase housing availability. Cornell University has committed to a plan to assist the Cornell workforce with homeownership and improve affordability in Tompkins County. The Tompkins County Planning Department has been working toward the development of affordable housing in the county. Better Housing for Tompkins County and Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services both offer county residents various services to increase homeownership and rehabilitate housing.

Tompkins County Area Development
Better Housing for Tompkins County
Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services 
Tompkins County Planning Dept.

Tompkins Community Action
Ithaca Housing Authority