Commissioning a Rental Vacancy Study in the City of Ithaca

New York State’s Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act of 2019 expanded the Emergency Tenant Protection Act (ETPA), allowing municipalities throughout the state to opt into it. The ETPA stabilizes rents in buildings of six or more units constructed before 1974, regulating annual rent increases through a county Rent Guidelines Board and entitling tenants to a renewal of their lease. In short, it seeks to prevent tenant displacement. An overview of the law is at:

Before a municipality can opt into the ETPA it must declare a housing emergency by documenting an apartment vacancy rate below 5%. The municipality must conduct a vacancy study of the class(es) of housing that would be affected by ETPA rent regulation. This resolution directs the Planning Department to conduct such a survey.

While I believe the survey itself is important to give us a better picture of the affordability of rental housing in Ithaca and determine ETPA eligibility, we’ll inevitably consider the merits of ETPA itself. The following is a very small sample of the discussion around ETPA and rent regulation in general:

The Village of Ossining recently adopted, repealed, and re-adopted (with changes) ETPA and has a useful FAQ with pros and cons:

Kingston recently conducted a vacancy study and found that it was not eligible:

This document was written by a former member of NYC’s Rent Guidelines Board:

These are decidedly pro-rent control arguments (footnotes are frequently useful for details):

These documents study unintended consequences of rent control:

Some of what’s debated above doesn’t apply to Ithaca or ETPA (we don’t see condo conversions here, the limited scope is unlikely to affect new housing construction). Also, there are a lot of parameters in the law to consider—e.g., ways for landlords to recoup the cost of major capital improvements and some flexibility regarding the properties affected—if we chose to implement it in Ithaca. But the first step is to determine our eligibility.

WHEREAS U.S. Census 2019 American Community Survey data for the City of Ithaca indicates that 74% of housing units are renter occupied[1], that 64% of households in renter-occupied housing units are rent-burdened (pay 30% or more of their household income towards housing)[2], 41% severely so (pay 50% or more of their household income towards housing)[3], and that the citywide rental vacancy rate was 4%[4]; and

WHEREAS median rents for housing units constructed before 1970 have increased by an average 3.6% annually over the past decade[5] compared to an average annual increase of the Consumer Price Index of 1.8% nationally[6] over the same period; and

WHEREAS on June 14, 2019, the “Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act of 2019” was passed by the New York State Legislature and signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo, allowing municipalities statewide to adopt the Emergency Tenant Protection Act of 1974 (ETPA); and

WHEREAS the ETPA provides rent stabilization for rental properties constructed before 1974 containing 6 or more units regulated by a Rent Guidelines Board; and

WHEREAS local adoption of the ETPA must be preceded by a housing study of affected properties to support a “declaration of emergency” regarding apartment availability, where an emergency is defined as a rental vacancy rate of less than 5% for the class of eligible housing accommodations; now therefore be it

RESOLVED that Common Council directs the Director of Planning & Development to commission a housing vacancy survey to determine the City of Ithaca’s eligibility for opting into the ETPA