Editor’s Note: Want to give $10 to get $20? Want to see in-depth journalism about Ithaca?
Do both at once! See our 2-week “Spotlight on Ithaca” campaign to help your community — and yourself.

Donate to ‘Spotlight on Ithaca’

[do_widget id= text-55 ]

Editor’s Note: The following is a guest editorial written by Ithaca Voice Contributor Brian Crandall.

As always, we encourage alternative or dissenting viewpoints. To submit a column, contact me at jalmendarez@ithacavoice.com.

ITHACA, N.Y. — Ithaca has an affordable housing problem. Cornell can’t be bothered with it.

This Tuesday, Cornell will be presenting a sketch plan to the city of Ithaca Planning Board to convert Hughes Hall, the dormitory and student services building for its law school, into “offices, administrative support spaces, academic programs and meeting spaces.” As part of the move, 47 student dorm rooms will be permanently eliminated.

In itself, this isn’t an issue. But by the end of academic year 2015-16, Cornell will also be closing its Maplewood Park graduate student housing complex, eliminating another 480 beds. Meanwhile, according to the university’s 2015-16 financial statements, enrollment is expect to continue climbing, continuing the growth of over 2,000 students in the past ten years.

There will be well over 500 students, mostly graduate and professional degree-seekers, who will be forced out onto a market physically and politically incapable of handling such an influx. To that end, the Voice has dedicated a lot of time and print to “the housing deficit“, but the harsh spotlight is on Cornell for this piece.

Certainly, the value of new facilities, in which Cornell has invested tens of millions over the past few years, cannot be taken for granted. New labs and new faculty offices help attract top-tier candidates, who in turn bring in grants that Cornell can take a portion of, and therefore pay back their investments in new academic space. It’s no debate that academia and research are the primary missions, and student services, dining halls and dorms are accessory. But there’s something to be said about the way the housing situation is being handled.

Cornell has had these plans on the boards for years. The law school plans have been underway for at least five years, and plans to tear down and replace Maplewood Park have been around since the 2008 Master Plan. Are we to believe, that out of all the departments, faculty and staff involved in the decision-making process over several years, that not one of them thought of advocating for temporary surge housing to accommodate students until new permanent housing could be built? Or building a phase of new permanent housing first, and then commencing with the removal of currently existing living space? Sadly, that seems to be the case.

This should not be an unfamiliar concept. While Cornell has been renovating Warren Hall on their Ag Quad over the past couple years, they constructed two temporary buildings to house academics while the work was underway. Back in the late 1940s, Cornell built hundreds of temporary housing units and office space for students coming in the G.I. Bill – for instance, the Vetsburgs that were built where Maplewood Park is now. Just across town on South Hill, Ithaca College put up a temporary dorm to house a larger-than-expected freshman class a few years ago.

What Cornell is doing is displacing hundreds of students onto the open market, which will increase competition for already scarce housing. Rents will spike in Ithaca because of a lack of new housing and a nearly-captive student market, and this will in turn displace local families and non-students already struggling to make ends meet. Furthermore, unscrupulous landlords will have less of an impetus to take care of properties, because they have that growing, captive student market – residents will be more likely to pay for overpriced, substandard housing. As students pay more for housing, buyers will scoop in to purchase houses to convert to rentals, and will pay a premium given the steady income of student dollars. This will in turn, raise home values and taxes on the city’s owner-occupied housing, exacerbating Ithaca’s affordability problem even more.

For a university loaded with esteemed academics and staff who presumably know of the region’s housing troubles, their actions show an appalling lack of stewardship and poor foresight that will only worsen town-gown relations.

[do_widget id= text-61 ]


Brian Crandall reports on housing and development for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached at bcrandall@ithacavoice.org.