Earth Day Event Offers Conversation on Housing

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Tompkins Weekly      4-4-16

By Gay Nicholoson

Gimme shelter. Well, that is if you can find any to share.

Sustainable Tompkins marks Earth Day on Saturday, April 23, by revisiting the teach-in format of the original celebration.

Just the other day, Ithaca made it onto another list of the best places to live. This time it’s not just the natural beauty and wineries being celebrated, but our new role as a “job epicenter” due to the recent surge in start-ups.

Meanwhile, Cornell continues to expand and add upwards of 200 additional students per year, and all those folks coming for school or to work have to sleep somewhere.

Data and statistics are scarce, but we’ve been hearing for a while about the extremely high cost of housing in the Ithaca area, along with many anecdotes about lower-income people, even long-term residents, being forced out of the city because they can’t afford the property taxes or the ever-increasing rents. Others who are anxious to buy a home and start a family can’t find anything on the market.

We think it is time for a community conversation on housing.

Sustainable TompkEarth in water drop reflection on green leaf, Save the earth concept, Elements of this image furnished by NASAins hosts the annual Earth Day Ithaca event where we feature our People’s Choice ‘Signs of Sustainability’ Awards along with exhibitors and featured speakers. This year we will be at GreenStar’s The Space on Saturday, April 23, from noon to 3 p.m. Instead of hosting an all-day affair, we will focus on conversation and celebration.

We are revisiting the teach-in format of the original Earth Day and participating in the International Earth Day Network’s Global Day of Conversation. In Ithaca, we will host a discussion about densification, gentrification, carrying capacity, and how to distribute costs and benefits as we add people to our community.

Our objective is to create a space for critical thinking about how our current housing system works and how it might be redesigned. As a prelude to that conversation, we have organized a weekly series of opinion articles in the Ithaca Times. Starting on March 16, elected officials, developers, and community leaders have been exploring what’s driving our current development patterns, and what options we have for accommodating new residents without decreasing quality of life or increasing gentrification.

In 2015, we saw many contested debates on proposed development projects and arguments over the best policy framework to assure adequate affordable housing. Typically, these debates focused on the merits of individual projects, which may have obscured our collective ability to examine underlying economic theories and governance philosophies.

We need to have a deeper discussion about rates, distribution, property taxes, and what endpoint we have in mind for ourselves. It is clear that Ithaca’s popularity is causing a housing affordability crisis for those already here. And the Ithaca area is slated for continued growth with additional infill projects, significant waterfront development, and housing complexes in several municipalities.
Most of the people being added to our population are students, retirees, and entrepreneurs attracted to Ithaca’s culture and knowledge economy. But what does this mean for working class residents? What will happen to Baby Boomer city residents as they retire and transition to smaller fixed incomes?

We hope you will join us for a community conversation as we try to develop more of a shared understanding of the systems in place and how they might be redesigned to push outcomes in the direction of fair access to housing, a thriving local economy, and healthy neighborhoods.

And don’t forget that we are celebrating the top vote-getters in our People’s Choice Signs of Sustainability Awards. Be sure to nominate your favorite five sustainability action heroes today. Just visit and link to the survey from there. Then join us at Earth Day Ithaca on April 23 to find out if your nominees will be up on stage.

Thanks to our Earth Day sponsors, Renovus Solar, Beck Equipment, and GreenStar Natural Foods Market, we are able to host this community conversation and celebration of all the ways we are making the Ithaca area thrive for all of us.

Gay Nicholson is President of Sustainable Tompkins.

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