ITHACA, N.Y.—Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services (INHS) has submitted plans to build new lower-income for-sale housing to the City of Ithaca for review, potentially filling a sizable housing gap on Sears Street near the downtown core.
The gap was created decades ago when homes were torn down to expand the parking lot for Baker Dental, a previous occupant of a 1960s-era office building at 412-14 North Tioga Street. INHS now plans to build four single-family homes on the lot, available for people making less than 80 percent of the area median income.
That building was part of a purchase by Tompkins County for an initial plan to build a new county office building near Downtown Ithaca on the 400 Block of North Tioga Street. However, those plans were superseded when the county saw an opportunity to buy a more desirable site one block to the south, and proceeded to buy and shift its plans to the new location. As reported by Ithaca Voice colleague Jimmy Jordan earlier this month, the county hopes to have its new $40 million Center of Government open by 2028.
In the meantime, the plan is to use most of the 400 Block for employee parking, with 410-12 North Tioga demolished to make way for more parking spaces. County lawmakers had deliberated over demolishing the “Red House” (built around 1870) for more parking, but facing strong community opposition, the county has since agreed to put that building up for sale.
Meanwhile, at the neighborhood and city’s urging, 0.24 acres fronting Sears Street was subdivided off with the intent to sell for lower-income housing. The county held an open request for bids, and of the two received, INHS was considered the more workable plan. The county agreed to sell the land to INHS for $210,000 back in December 2021.
Now, with a purchase option agreed to, the plan to build housing on the Sears Street parcel is moving forward. For the sake of technicalities, a purchase contract means INHS does not own the land yet, but made a forfeitable down-payment to prevent the county from wooing other bidders during Site Plan Review (SPR). If a project is approved, INHS will formally buy the land from the county.
This is not one of INHS’ larger projects. The Sears Street parcel will be redeveloped into four single-family homes, to be sold to individuals making around 80% of area median income, about $59,000/year for a single person and $68,000/year for a couple.
As planned, two homes will be 2-bedroom/1.5-bath with 1,130 square feet of space, and the other two will be 3-bedroom/1.5-bath with 1,250 square feet. The homes will be built with modular units and designed to achieve Zero Energy Ready Home (ZERH) certification, meaning that if the owner wants to put solar panels on the roof after purchase, the home would be able to generate as much energy as it uses.
In addition to the below-market sales price to lower-income homeowners, the homes will be placed within the Community Housing Trust, legally mandating that buyers can only resell at a rate no higher than inflation for the next 99 years; as a side-benefit, the properties will be assessed at a below-market value, so buyers receive lower property tax bills. The project price tag is estimated at $1,243,000 and would be built out from March to August 2024, per SPR documents.
The infill housing project does have a couple of hurdles to jump. Like most of the homes on Sears Street, the project will need zoning variances since they are designed to a fit and feel appropriate to the early 1900s homes around them, and not the city’s 1970s suburban zoning—in fact, every existing home on Sears Street is out of compliance with city zoning. Front and rear yard variances are necessary, as well as a variance for lot size.
Still, INHS appears to be confident enough in its submission that they’re already building an “interest list” of qualified applicants. The City of Ithaca Planning Board will take their first look at the proposal at their meeting next Tuesday evening. Local architect Claudia Brenner and civil engineering firm T.G. Miller P.C. are assisting INHS with the development plans.