News Tidbits 8/29/15: Stirring Pots and Stewing Minds

29 08 2015

210_hancock_62015

Short set this week. Things are relatively quiet for this week’s round-up.

1. Leading off this week, Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services’ (INHS) 210 Hancock development has finally received initial approvals, after a months-long, contentious debate. With the zoning variances granted, it was up to the planning board to issue preliminary approval, and compared to previous meetings, the discussion and decision was brief and uncontested. The plan is to have the project start construction in its phase (the commercial space, 53 apartments and the five rental townhouses) next May, wrapping up the following year. Initially, the time-frame was next fall, but getting approvals now has allowed INHS to move up the time-frame a few months. The seven for-sale townhouses will be built at a later date, with funding separate from the rental units.

The project isn’t necessarily a 100% sealed deal (and really, no project is until it’s complete). INHS has to submit an application for low-income tax credits as part of its financing package, and those are due in by October 6th. Only about 30% of applications receive funding (recipients will be announced in January 2016), but INHS has a pretty strong track record to go on.

After the feud over the Stone Quarry Apartments, INHS made an effort to be transparent about the planning process with the Hancock project and openly engage with the community. Unfortunately, it backfired. It’s looking like INHS’s next major proposal will end up out in Freeville, so apart from one or two houses that may end up in the pipeline over the next year or so, INHS isn’t likely to propose any further affordable housing development in Ithaca for a while.

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2. One controversy subsides, another heats up. The Planning Board was not amused with State Street Triangle at the latest meeting. Now, given the wide spectrum of opinions that runs through the area, the folks that serve on the board tend to be fair and even-keeled. Not gung-ho about all projects, but definitely not a part of the “I oppose anything that makes Ithaca look different” commentary that comes out of some quarters. So this week’s comments tend to be about as harsh as it gets without saying no outright.

I personally don’t like the “It doesn’t look like Ithaca” comment used for the Ithaca Voice headline, because a city isn’t a static object – buildings are built or replaced, homes are painted and renovated, and retailers change. The Ithaca of 50 years ago, or even 20 years ago, isn’t like the Ithaca of today or 20 years from now. Subjective comments are prone to pitfalls.

But that doesn’t change the fact that the size of this proposal makes a lot of people uncomfortable. The building can be built as-of-right (but board approval is still required before permits can be issued), but there might be a substantial benefit if Campus Advantage were accommodating of the concerns, especially with the tax abatement being pursued. For the sake of example, INHS was very receptive to incorporating suggestions in its 210 Hancock project, which really helped during the approvals process. A little more flexibility on CA’s part could make all the difference, assuming they can still make a decent return on investment. I’ve heard that there are further design revisions underway (whether they’re minor tweaks or major changes is not clear), and hopefully those will be put forth for review sometime soon.

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3. Here’s a detail worth noting from the County’s last Legislature meeting – the following is a line from Herb Engman, the town supervisor of Ithaca, addressing the legilslature as he announced his intent to retire at the end of the year:

“Cornell is moving on its consultant to plan the first phase of redevelopment of the East Hill area”.

The wording is a little odd, but my impression is that the consultant is moving forward with planning the first phase of the “East Hill Village“, or whatever Cornell’s planning staff are calling it these days. Actual plans are probably still several months or a year out, not to mention the months of trying to get approval, and then financing/construction. But given the rapid rise in enrollment at the university, any movement towards accommodating more students and reducing the strain on municipalities is welcome.

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4. There will be a full-fledged article on this in the Voice next week, but for those looking to kill time, here’s a “family budget calculator” from the Economic Policy Institute think-tank. There are several ways to calculate affordable housing, but many don’t take childcare into account, so it’s worth seeing just how much affordability changes when children enter the picture.

Word to the wise though – EPI’s data has some flaws. If you compare this to AFCU’s living wage calculation for adults with and without children, you’ll find some sizable differences.

 

 





“Fun Facts” About the Ithaca Workforce

21 07 2015

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A few weeks ago, I did an article for the Ithaca Voice about how wages in Ithaca are only slightly higher than peer communities in upstate, yet they pay a lot more in rent.

This article isn’t going to focus on that, although I could certainly add a few more pages (or at least fix the embedded graphs issue in the first article). This “topic of the week” piece is intended to be more of a “fun facts” about the Ithaca labor market.

The data comes from the Department of Labor here. All figures date from May 2014.

– The major category that employs the most people in Ithaca is no surprise – “Education, Training and Library Occupations”, with 15.49% of the jobs in the Ithaca metro (the BLS estimates this category to have 7,660 jobs locally, but that would suggest only about 49,430 jobs in the region when their numbers elsewhere say 70,000…make of it what you will). This turns out to be the highest percentage for any metro in the entire country.

This category, which includes professors, teachers, librarians and teaching assistants, averages pay of $80,700/year locally, versus $46,660/year nationally. Not only is Ithaca the metro with the largest percentage of educators and librarians, it’s also the one with the highest wages – Ann Arbor (U. of Michigan) comes in second with $79,500. Ithaca’s quintessential college town vibe is strong.

– The occupational category with the highest average pay is no shocker either – Physicians and surgeons, who employ about 80 people locally and average a pay of just over $233,000/year. The national average is only a little lower at $224,000/year. They are followed by the 40 or so dentists in the region making an average of $205,000/year (national average $167,000/year).
– On the other end of the scale, fast food cooks make the least – the 140 estimated by the BLS make about $18,680 per year. Food prep, delivery drivers and laundry workers all make less than $20,000/year on average, and amount to 1,380 workers. The median salary for all jobs in the Ithaca area is $52,020/year.

– Some other rankings where Ithaca comes in the top 10 of the nation’s 381 metros: professional chefs (8th highest concentration in the nation), microbiologists (7th highest concentration), psychologists (5th) and editors (4th – here’s looking at you, Jeff).

– Now here’s a fun category – location quotient. Basically, how many times more likely a certain type of worker is in a given area versus the national average. For example, my field, atmospheric and space scientists, has a location quotient of 107.36 for the Boulder, Colorado – in other words, atmospheric and space scientists are 107.36 times more common  in Boulder than the national average. This is why we have a joke in my field that Boulder is like Mecca for atmospheric scientists – you have to visit at least once before you die, otherwise you can’t go to Heaven.

So what fields have the highest location quotients in Ithaca? Economics professors (24.53), Physics professors (14,49) and Fundraisers (14.03). And yes, Ithaca has the highest concentration of people in those fields out of any metro area in the country. Now I know why Cornell is so persistent with its donation solicitations.





The Case For More Housing

7 07 2015

Last week, Ithaca mayor Svante Myrick and county Legislator Martha Robertson issued an opinion piece on the need for more housing, and especially affordable housing, in the city and county. There were two, fairly simple reactions to the article – readers believed it and agreed there was a housing issue, or they thought it was bunch of lies.

Being a data-driven person, I decided to delve a little deeper into the numbers behind Myrick and Robertson’s claims.

Let’s start with the 2006 housing study that was cited in the article. According to that study, performed by Vermont-based Economic & Policy Resources Inc. (EPR), 2,127 rental units and 1,767 owner-occupied units would be needed by the end of 2014, for a total of 3,894. These numbers were determined using the 2005 housing deficit (871 units), economic trends and population/demographic trends.  Some readers may remember the quote of “4,000 units of housing” cited in news pieces back in the mid-2000s, and this is where it comes from.

permits_tc_2006_2014

Using data from the U.S. Housing and Urban Development’s State Of the Cities Systems (SOCDS) Database, new housing permits were pulled for the same time period as the study’s projection, 2006 to 2014. From 2006 to 2014, Tompkins County added 1,124 single-family homes and 910 multi-family housing units (apartments and maybe a few co-ops or condos), for a total of 2,034 housing units. In what is a surprise to no one, the majority of multi-family housing was built in the city of Ithaca, and the majority of single-family homes were built in surrounding towns. The county had 40,069 housing units in 2006, so in that nine-year span there was about 5.1% growth in housing units, to 42,103.

The EPR study stated that 3,894 housing units would be required. With 2,034 units actually built, that means only 52% of the housing needs identified by the study were met. Breaking it down further, homeowners, occupying mostly single-family properties, fared a little better – with 1,124 built of the 1,767, that meant 63.6% of the homes that were needed based on 2006-2014 projection were built. However, for rental units, which are mostly multi-family housing, it was only 910 of the 2,127 needed – 42.8%. Not even half.

This wouldn’t be a problem if the economy slowed down or population growth leveled off, but neither of those occurred. Even with the recession a few years ago, job totals have increased quite a bit, with over 6,000 jobs have been added to the county since 2006. The population has also increased – Tompkins County had 99,997 residents in 2006, and in 2014 it was estimated to be 104,691. Rather oddly, the county added 3,049 housing units from 1997-2005, the previous nine-year period, but only 3,482 residents. Population growth has climbed even as housing construction has dropped.

Perhaps most importantly, the 2006 EPR study never accounted for changes in student population. It assumed net zero change for the purpose of the study, which focused on permanent residents. Unfortunately for the housing situation, there’s been a huge growth in student population. Cornell added 2,040 students from 2006 to 2014. Ithaca College added a more manageable 178 students. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average rental unit in Tompkins County houses 2.14 people. The county’s staring down 1,036 units it didn’t plan for, and as noted in the opinion article, Cornell plans on increasing its enrollment further.

For the record, IC has added student housing in the period from 2006 to 2014 – an addition to the Circle Apartments south of campus, which opened in 2012 and increased campus housing capacity by 138 beds. While South Hill students are driving up housing demand, the overall impact is minor.

In contrast, when Cornell rebuilt its West Campus Housing during the 2006-2014 time period, there was no net increase in the total number of beds. The Big Red has had no gain in student housing since new dorms opened on North Campus in 2001. With the impending closure of the 480-bed Maplewood Park student housing complex, the situation may get worse. No one can force Cornell to build new housing, but their burgeoning student population does add a substantial strain to the market.

housing need_tc

Given the numbers above, Tompkins County fell 1,860 units short of its 2014 housing goal; add in the unexpected influx of college students, and the number rises to 2,832. It wasn’t good to have some affordability problems when the county was 871 units short of a balanced market in 2005; at the 2014 deficit of 2,832 units, the impacts become much more severe, which is why housing affordability has become such a big issue.

Myrick and Robertson’s column might be an opinion, but the statistics give their opinion a lot of weight.





News Tidbits 5/30/15: Slow Week

30 05 2015

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Not much of a news roundup this week. Nothing new to report from the city except that the Texas Roadhouse was approved, and the only item on the town of Ithaca’s planning board agenda for next week will be the review of a subdivision to create a new home lot off of Hanshaw Road. With the lack of news acknowledged, there were at least a few things I wrote up for the Ithaca Voice this past week that will happily fulfill your reading time if you haven’t glanced over them already.

1. Maplewood Park Closure, Replacement Likely – To loyal reader “CS PhD”, I honestly had no idea what you were referring to in your comment on the Boiceville post until a Cornell press release reached by inbox a couple hours later. I did reach out to Ithaca East (old Maple Hill) manager Bruce Abbott, who told me that Cornell has a two-year notice in case of closure, which gets renewed by June 30th. In practice, that means that the 81-unit Ithaca East apartment complex won’t close until June 30th 2017 at the earliest, but Cornell has until the end of next month to decide whether or not to extend that to at least 2018. As Abbott mentioned in his email, “Currently, I have 70% Cornell graduate students [in the tenant mix], so I may be considered a resource to them [Cornell] while they are replacing Maplewood.  Otherwise, I have about 35 days before I know what the future holds.” And we shall see what happens; Ithaca East with its couple hundred bedrooms likely won’t be closed until that much replacement housing has been built and opened at the Maplewood Park site. 480 bedrooms will be tough enough for the market to absorb as it is.

Edit: In a follow-up email, Bruce Abbott corrected the dates – Cornell has to notify him by June 1st and a theoretical closing would be May 30th, 2017 at the earliest.

2. National chain Smashburger plans to open Ithaca franchise – Although no locations were given, a casual check suggests that it’ll be in a suburban location in an already-built space, although urban spots aren’t completely out of the question. A typical Smashburger is a little over 2,000 sq ft, and they don’t have drive-thrus. For example, the one in suburban Albany reuses what was once a Friendly’s. Smashburger locations typically employ about 25, and franchising requires a net worth of $1.5 million, including $500k in liquid assets.

No surprise, the Voice readers have been spirited in their assessment…it definitely didn’t help Fine Line Bistro’s closing was published this morning. The reaction isn’t quite as controversial as Texas Roadhouse, probably because not as many people are familiar with Smashburger. I look both forward and dread the day I write about Sonic (which is looking to come into the market), Trader Joe’s (of which I’ve heard nothing), or any other very high profile chain makes their move into the area.

3. Which Tompkins County towns are growing fastest? – Most towns reported growth year-over-year, and the census revised the 2013 numbers upward. Ithaca city now stands at an estimated 30,720, an increase of 706 since the 2010 census. Ithaca town, for which the Census Bureau includes Cayuga Heights, stands at 20,515, an increase of 585.

Now comes my gut check – I think the city numbers and town numbers a little high. I base that off of building permits. If I count the number of annual permits given in the federal HUD SOCDS database, I get 127 units (75 single-family homes and 52 multi-unit) for 2010-2014, and just 14 units, 10 single-family homes and two duplexes, in all of 2014. If one assumes 3-bedroom house and 2-bedroom apartments for statistics’ sake, then one gets 329 residents. Cayuga Heights add 27 units – 24 1-bedrooms in the current Kendal expansion, one two-unit (most likely the rear addition to 207 Kelvin Place), and one new home since 2010. I think that equates to about 33. So 362 total, only ~62% of 585. As for the city, there were 259 new units, of which only 12 were single-family homes. Using the same math as before gives 530 residents in new units, 75% of total. I’m not sure how things like renovations or reuse projects are handled, so the city might be within the margin of error on my back-of-the-envelope calculation. But for the town, probably not.

Long story short, take the population estimates with a healthy dose of skepticism.





Fast Facts: Ithaca College Employee Headcounts

12 05 2015

All facts come from Ithaca College’s Office of Institutional Research. All enrollment values are for the fall semester of a given year, i.e. 2001 means fall 2001.

Since the blog has previously taken a look at Cornell’s faculty and staff headcounts, it seems only fair to take a look at Ithaca College’s as well.

ic_headcount_1

Over the past decade or so, Ithaca College’s employment has grown. Since 2002, headcount has increased by 302 people/20.1%, about 1.68% per year on average. During the recession, employment at the school actually increased at a faster pace than the average, a stark contrast to the hundreds of jobs that were cut at Cornell.

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Breaking the numbers down into faculty and admin/staff components, faculty employment has grown by 155/26.96% since 2002, somewhat faster than the 147 person/15.86% growth in staff employment.

For the sake of comparison, Cornell employed 7,075 non-academic staff in 2002 and 7,018 in 2014, a 57 person/0.8% decrease. The Big Red also employed 2,756 faculty/academic staff in 2002, and 2,763 profs and lecturers in 2014, a 7 person/0.3% increase. (note, Cornell numbers are for the Ithaca campus only).

In other words, we have over the past decade or so, one school that has seen only small enrollment growth but large employment growth, while the other has seen large enrollment growth and no employment growth. I can’t vouch for whether one school’s grasp of their situation is better than the other, but the differences between the two make for an engaging conversation piece.

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Here’s something more apropos to current events – the split between full-time and part-time faculty at IC. In 2002, 18.41% of male faculty and 26.92% of female faculty were part-time. In 2014, 28.42% of male faculty and 33.71% of female faculty were part-time. Although Ithaca College has added 155 faculty over 12 years, only 57 of those positions are full-time. Part of the the growth in part-time faculty can be attributed to the growth in graduate students, who are considered part-time faculty at IC if they are teaching. But regardless, it’s clear that Ithaca has become more reliant on part-time staff to meet its teaching needs.

Not to take an official stance on any union-organizing, but double-checking with some previous Voice write-ups, the graph above means that there were 226 Ithaca College faculty that were earning no more than about $16,000/year.

Cornell doesn’t have part-time faculty listed in their data, but I assume grad students with TA assignments fill that role. As of 2014, 6.6% of non-academic staff at Cornell (468 of 7047) are considered part time, while 25% of non-academic IC staff (268 of 1074) are part time. So maybe that’s another piece in the conversation comparing schools.





Fast Facts: Ithaca College Enrollment Figures

5 05 2015

All facts come from Ithaca College’s Office of Institutional Research. All enrollment values are for the fall semester of a given year, i.e. 2001 means fall 2001.

I give what’s probably an unfair amount of attention to Cornell. Part of it is because that’s the campus I know. But Ithaca College has its impacts and influences on the local community as well. Today will take a look at Ithaca College’s enrollment over the years.

ic_enrollment_1

One thing that is clear looking at Ithaca College’s recent enrollment totals is that on the whole, there has only been a modest increase in enrollment in recent years. Enrollment was fairly flat during most of the 2000s, grew a few hundred students during the Great Recession, and has been dropping in recent years. You put a best fit line on this and you get a best-fit line of the equation (student population = 30.374(years out from 2001)+ 6368.5). But the best-fit line is by no means a good predictor in this case.

IC strives to be all residential college, and these fluxes have put a strain on its resources and ability to “run lean”. The college offered students $1500 incentives to live off-campus during fall 2005, as they were forced to convert lounges into dorms. The skyrocketing enrollment in 2009 forced the college to construct a temporary dorm at a cost of $2.5 million, and even offer a few incoming freshmen $10,000 to defer matriculation.

As a general observation of Ithaca’s housing issues, the spotlight can be shined directly on Cornell, whose enrollment has increased by nearly 2500 students since 2005. There hasn’t been much private housing built for IC students in recent years (perhaps a few dozen units), and barring the occasional over-enrolled year, there hasn’t been as much need for private student housing on South Hill.

ic_enrollment_2

Recent trends noted, historically Ithaca College has grown by leaps and bounds. Apart from a small drop in enrollment when the school was moving into its new South Hill digs in the early 1960s, enrollment continued to swell all the up to about 1991. when it enrolled 6,443 students. Enrollment fell 12% to 5,688 in 1994, before slowly rising back up in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

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Looking at graduate student enrollment, there was a substantial increase during the 2000s, climbing from 230 in 2004 to 507 in 2010. Since then, however, the number of grad students enrolled on South Hill has tapered down to 463.

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One thing that has stayed fairly consistent over the past decade is the proportion of gender on the Ithaca College campus. The gender split is typically 42-44% male, 56-58% female, with this year having the highest female proportion in recent years, just like Cornell.





Fast Facts: Cornell Enrollment Figures, Part II

31 03 2015

Part I in September 2013 looked at enrollment from 2002-2012. This time, it’s a look over the whole 150 year history of Cornell.

The information and plots included here come courtesy of the Institutional Research and Planning unit at Cornell University, the same unit that maintains the Cornell University Factbook.

cornell_enrollment_1

As of Fall 2014, Cornell University enrolled 21,850 students at its Ithaca campus, the latest statistic on the rapid increase in student population since 2005, when the total student population was 19,447.  Many of the ups and downs in the 150 years or Cornell are easy enough to qualify – drops in male enrollment as students went off to fight in World War I and World War II, the Post-WWII GI Bill bringing an enormous increase in enrollment. Then there’s a leveling off in enrollment during the 1970s due to financial constraints, and the rapid rise of women in college starting in the late 1960s, as more and more women sought out education and careers.

Early on, a decline can be seen in enrollment, from 561 in 1876-77 to a low of 384 students in 1881-82. According to Morris Bishop in A History of Cornell, “Various reasons were given for the dwindling enrollment: hard times, increased tuition, stiffened entrance exams, coeducation, Cornell’s reputation for religion. Probably each of these reasons was valid in certain cases (p. 201).” The absence of university president A. D. White while he served as the U.S. Ambassador to Germany from 1879-1881 didn’t help matters. Thankfully for the university’s finances, enrollment rebound and morale increased after White returned.

cornell_enrollment_2_ug

More notably, starting around fall 2011, the number of women enrolled as undergrads exceeded the number of men, the first time ever in Cornell’s history. This reflects national trends – women are now the majority of matriculated students in all self-identifying groups.

cornell_enrollment_3_grad

Perhaps in part due to large increases in research spending in the 1950s and 1960s, grad students more than doubled in population in fifteen years, increasing from 1,528 in 1950 to 3,149 in 1965. The growth since 2000 isn’t as dramatic, but nearly as large in number – 3,918 in 2000 to 5,140 in 2014. The drop off in the 1990s can be attributed to “cuts in federal aid to higher education, especially R1 type institutions”, according to Ithaca College Economics professor Elia Kacapyr.

cornell_enrollment_4_law

Taking a quick look at the law school’s enrollment numbers, there was a tremendous spike in enrollment after World War II, thanks to the GI Bill – 460 students in 1950, more than doubling the 201 reported in 1939. 78 percent of law students in 1950 hailed from other institutions for their undergraduate degrees (Morris Bishop’s A History of Cornell, p. 575). During WWII, the law school accelerated its degree program by a year (Bishop 547), which might explain why the drop was more severe than in other programs. A mere 49 students were enrolled in the law school in Fall 1943.

More recently, Cornell had a spike in law school enrollment, as part of a larger boom in law school education during the recession. The law school went from 583 students in 2008 to 689 in 2009, a remarkable amount of growth for one year. Law school looked like a ticket to a six-figure job during the recession, but after a couple of years of horror stories of law students unable to find high-paying jobs to match their high debts, applications have decreased nationwide and the enrollment numbers at Cornell have eased down just a little bit, to 668. The shrinkdown isn’t nearly as bad as some other schools, however.

cornell_enrollment_5_mba

On the other hand, it now seems like MBAs are the go-to for that six-figure job, with a large boost in matriculants nationwide. Whether or not B-school grads have a law school-like meltdown has yet to be seen, but there’s no doubt that MBA student enrollment is growing by tremendous leaps and bounds Far Above Cayuga – the Johnson School of Management has grown from 655 students in 2004 to 1,168 in 2014.

One thing that stands out is that from 1947 (when the business school began teaching students) to 1969, there had never been more than 4 women enrolled at any one time.

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Lastly, the Vet School. Morris Bishop has an enlightening anecdote to share about applying to the school in the Post-War era:

“The Veterinary College was distressed by its popularity. The upsurge of interest in the scientific study of animal life and disease overwhelmed the country’s ten veterinary colleges. By 1947 we had 750 applications for entrance, or fifteen for every place. Since our first duty was to New York State boys, out-of-state applicants had one chance in forty of admission. The same situation prevailed elsewhere; a boy who lived in a state without a veterinary school had practically no chance of entering the field. The need led to the creation of a number of new schools, and the pressure upon Cornell gradually eased.” (Bishop 576)

Starting in 1980, women exceeded enrollment of men at the Vet School – today, the breakdown is about 75-25 in favor of women. I have had several vet school friends say that to be a single straight male in the Vet School makes one a very hot commodity. Cornell can expect to see increases in enrollment in the next few years, as part of its plan to enroll 120 in each class (480 total, up from the current 421) by 2017.








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