ITHACA, N.Y. — Two affordable housing plans will begin formal review with the city of Ithaca Planning Board this month – Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Service’s (INHS’s) plans for 203-209 Elm Street on West Hill, and Lakeview Health Service’s multi-story apartments at 709-713 West Court Street in the West End neighborhood.

The Voice first broke the news about INHS’s West Hill project when the non-profit developer solicited community feedback at a meeting way back in April 2016. Since that time, the plans have evolved a little bit, but the gist hasn’t changed. INHS would replace 14 units of affordable housing, some of which is uninhabitable due to severe structural issues, with 13 affordable rentals in a 12,585 SF (square-foot) building on a sloped site.

The building, designed by Rochester-based SWBR Architects, is two stories from the front, and three from the back. Three of the units would be two bedrooms, and ten would be one-bedroom units. The building’s design is a fairly modern look with fiber cement siding with wood-like fiber cement and masonry accents. The project cost would be $2.76 million.

Two zoning variances are being sought for the Elm Street housing – one for six parking spaces vs the required thirteen, and another for a rear yard setback so that INHS can build a two-tiered retaining wall instead of one very tall retaining wall. In a project analysis, city planner Lisa Nicholas stated that the variances appear reasonable, but additional information is needed for construction phasing and environmental protection of the steeply-sloped property.

Meanwhile, in the West End, Lakeview Health Services has tweaked their plans for their all-affordable rentals planned on the southwest corner of North Meadow and Court Streets. Since the initial plans were announced, the number of units has been increased from fifty one-bedroom units to sixty in the five-story, 62,700 SF building.

Also modified were the first floor plans, which previously had rental commercial space, but which will now be occupied by Lakeview, some for community space serving tenants, and some for Lakeview to expand its services and serve as an office and administrative hub for its programs in Tompkins County. As a result, Lakeview expects to create thirteen permanent jobs. As with the INHS plan – the plan is a fairly modern, boxy look with exterior masonry on the first floor and fiber cement on the upper floors.

Previously, the fifty-unit plan called for twenty-five units to be reserved as affordable housing for those afflicted with psychiatric disabilities, and twenty-five units for those in the general population who qualify for affordable housing. Those who qualify would make 60% of area median income (AMI) or less, which comes out to $31,800/year or less. Now, the sixty units will be split as follows – thirty units for those who are generally independent but afflicted with psychiatric disability and may need occasional assistance, twenty-two units for those in the general population who qualify for affordable housing, and new to the equation, eight units for formerly homeless individuals in need of housing.

The hard construction costs are estimated to be about $13 million. Plan Architectural Studio of Rochester is the architect, while local firm Trowbridge Wolf Michaels Landscape Architects will be doing the landscaping, and shepherding the project through the approval process on behalf of Lakeview. Another local company, T.G. Miller P.C., will handle civil engineering and surveying.

elm st affordable housing

If approved, neither project would start right away – Lakeview is aiming for a November 2018 – December 2019 construction period, and INHS is targeting May 2019 – May 2020. That’s because unlike market-rate housing plans where a bank and investors are likely to make a stated return on investment, affordable housing doesn’t have the profit margins to draw in private investment, resulting in the need to compete for state and federal housing grants to help finance the project. These grants are only awarded a few times per year, and typically fewer than one in three applicants is funded in an application round. With this highly selective, time-constrained process, affordable housing projects have to be planned out and approved years in advance.

Still, every affordable housing plan has to start somewhere. It will be at the city’s discretion as to whether or not these two proposals move forward toward becoming a reality.

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