This is an opinion piece submitted by Molly Chiang, architect with The Vecino Group. It is one of four proposals submitted for consideration of the Green Street Garage redevelopment. Each team has submitted an opinion piece to give the public a closer look at their proposals and vision. For an overview of the four projects, visit The Ithaca Voice’s previous coverage here. Read about Ithaca-Peak Development‘s vision here. Read about Visum Development’s vision here. Read about the Little Commons proposal here.

ITHACA, N.Y. — Cities are made by the people who live in them. What happens, then, when only a certain type of person can afford to live in a city? That’s the big picture question facing Ithaca as a project and team are selected for the Green Street Garage Redevelopment.

The Vecino Group has answered with a development that delivers more than double the affordable housing created in the other proposals.

Asteri Ithaca will create 209 affordable homes, in a mix of studios, 1-bedroom, 2-bedroom and 3-bedroom units. Funded by non-competitive 4% tax credits, the housing would be guaranteed affordable for a minimum of 30 years, regulated by annual state inspections, and maintained by designated reserve funds. Individuals making anywhere from $29,500-$47,200 and families making $42,100-$67,360 a year would income qualify for the housing. It’s worth noting that Tompkins County has one of the highest costs of living in the state, rivaled only by cities in the NYC Metro area.

The Vecino Group knows that taste transcends tax brackets and that people at all income levels appreciate good design. That’s why the affordable housing at Asteri Ithaca will look just like quality market rate housing. Asteri has a high per unit construction cost, allowing us to deliver high quality units and more of them, at no additional cost to the City and less cost to the tenant.

Rents at Asteri are projected at $657 to $1,000 for studios, $705 to $1,079 for 1BR, $852 to $1,221 for 2BR and $990 to $1,484 for 3BR units. The rent increases on units will be capped at a maximum increase of 2% per year, guaranteeing affordability for decades to come.

In addition to general affordable units, Asteri is projecting 16 permanent supportive housing units.  Permanent supportive housing combines affordable housing with onsite supportive services for populations with additional barriers to housing stability. It is nationally recognized as the best practice model for preventing homelessness. Conversations with Racker Center and TC Action indicate support and a willingness to partner. 3,000 sf of space is planned for a service provider to offer support onsite.

Mayor Myrick has called the affordable housing crisis the “largest threat to the City of Ithaca.” According to recent housing studies, more than 5,800 units of affordable housing are needed in Tompkins County. Knowing the magnitude of the affordable housing crisis here, our community owes it to ourselves to pick the development that will make the biggest impact. It is also critical to choose the right developer to do this.

Vecino understands losing parking and access to businesses can be devasting.  We are sensitive to the construction fatigue downtown has experienced.  In respect of the short-term impact of creating Asteri, Vecino will stage our work so Green Street is never completely closed, and access remains to the Cinemapolis. The West garage has served its useful life and must come down.  We will maintain access to the existing center and east parking while this takes place and throughout construction, opening new parking as quickly as possible.  We anticipate periods of restricted access while the heavy-lifting occurs and will keep public safety at the forefront.  Second to safety, our goal is to be good neighbors and ensure downtown continues to thrive.

The Vecino Group sees development as a collaborative process. Rather than assuming we have all the answers, we seek, we listen, we learn. We believe the best ideas come from the many and not the few. That’s why we’ll be collaborating with constituent groups on Asteri. If you check out our work (, you’ll see developments that are reflective of their locations and the people who live in them. We get that every community is special. Our developments tell a story.

The story told in Asteri will be about Ithaca.

It’s a place I’ve always been proud to call home. When I joined the Vecino Group as an architect, I was drawn by their mission. They didn’t seem to be doing development the same way other companies were. Our company sees development as a path to building a better world and infuses this commitment to the greater good in all details of our work. As a native, I know that Ithaca and the Vecino Group are alike in that way. Ithaca has always been a city that cares.

Those of us who live here know firsthand that the best people in Ithaca don’t always make the highest salaries. Artists, service workers, creatives, young professionals, seniors; there are tons of people who would be ideal residents for Asteri Ithaca. As a city grows, it takes diligence and careful effort to remain accessible to everyone.

We can’t afford to lose people because of an impossible cost of living. I hope that the Green Street Garage Redevelopment decision is made with all Ithacans in mind.