Freedom to Walk: Decriminalizing Jaywalking

An Ordinance to Repeal City of Ithaca Municipal Code Section 346-17, “Pedestrian Crossings”

WHEREAS Plan Ithaca, the City of Ithaca’s comprehensive plan, prioritizes pedestrian travel above all other modes of transportation; and

WHEREAS on March 6, 2019 Common Council adopted the goals of “Vision Zero” to eliminate traffic fatalities and severe injuries on roadways, and that strategy requires prioritization of pedestrian travel; and

WHEREAS the automobile industry lobbied “jaywalking” into existence in the 1920s to shift the blame for crashes onto pedestrians and encourage automobile usage and sales; and

WHEREAS “jaywalking” laws put the onus of pedestrian safety on walkers instead of lethal, increasingly large motor vehicles; and

WHEREAS criminalizing crossing the street raises the potential for selective enforcement; now, therefore be it

ORDAINED AND ENACTED by the Common Council of the City of Ithaca as follows:


Section 1. Legislative findings, intent, and purpose

The Common Council makes the following findings:

  1. Prioritizing pedestrian travel is a component of achieving the city’s climate and safety goals
  2. Automobiles and other vehicles with greater potential for causing injury should bear greater responsibility for pedestrian safety

Section 2. Repeal of Section 17 of Chapter 346 of the City Code

Section 17 of Chapter 346 of the City Code, “Pedestrian Crossings,” is hereby repealed in its entirety:

§ 346-17 Pedestrian crossings.

A.  Traffic control signals. No pedestrian shall cross between adjacent intersections at which traffic control signals are in operation except in a crosswalk.

B.  Business districts. No pedestrian shall cross a street or roadway except in a crosswalk in the central business district or in any other business district.

Section 3. Severability clause

Severability is intended throughout and within the provisions of this ordinance. If any section, subsection, sentence, clause, phrase, or portion of this ordinance is held to be invalid or unconstitutional by a court of competent jurisdiction, then that decision shall not affect the validity of the remaining portions of this ordinance.

Section 4. Effective date

This ordinance shall take effect immediately and in accordance with law upon publication of notices as provided in the Ithaca City Charter.

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







Calling on the Federal Government to Cancel Federal Student Loan Debt

Modeled after Senator Warren et al’s student loan debt cancelation resolution, this calls on President Biden to use his executive authority to cancel federal student loan debt.

WHEREAS over 43 million Americans hold more than $1.5 trillion of federal student loan debt at an average balance of $39,351[1] and more than 9 million federal student loan borrowers are currently in default on those federal student loans; and

WHEREAS women hold two thirds of all student debt, African American borrowers have higher than average levels of student debt, most borrowers have more than half of their student debt after 12 years of repayment, 40% of student loan borrowers did not finish college or obtain a degree, over 8 million student loan borrowers are over the age of 50[2]; and

WHEREAS cancelling student debt would increase African American wealth by a third, increase GDP by billions of dollars, add up to 1.5 million new jobs, and make it more likely for people to start or invest in a small business, obtain more advanced degrees, start a family, and buy a house2; and

WHEREAS the elimination of student debt represents an opportunity to support Ithaca residents, address racial and gender wage gaps, and provide better overall health outcomes to the general population since debt is associated with negative mental and physical health outcomes such as stress, depression, general health, obesity and mortality; now therefore be it

RESOLVED that the City of Ithaca’s Common Council calls on the President of the United States to take executive action to broadly cancel Federal student loan debt for Federal student loan borrowers administratively using existing legal authorities available under the law; and

RESOLVED that a copy of this resolution to be sent to President Joe Biden, Senator Chuck Schumer, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, and Congressman Tom Reed



Ithaca Journal: Developer releases ‘Collegetown Innovation District,’ but without high-tech discussions

Developer releases ‘Collegetown Innovation District,’ but without high-tech discussions

“I’m a software engineer, so I’m enthusiastic about getting tech jobs here, but the job plan seems vague to me,” said Second Ward Alderperson Ducson Nguyen, a GrammaTech employee, during the meeting. 

He continued: “I would like some more meat behind the strategy … to get the details would be very helpful. In general, I would like to see more community benefit. What I have in mind is more money to the community housing fund …” 

Ithaca Voice: PEDC Recap

Councilor Nguyen, usually one of the pro-development members of Common Council, said he liked the streetscape and design, but expressed concern that the 360 jobs were goals rather than firm commitments. “We’re approaching this in a unique and aggressive because we’ve done it before (with the Cornell Business Park), and we’ll do it again,” Proujansky replied. Nguyen added that he wasn’t concerned with funds to move the old fire station No. 9, but asked for a $5 million commitment to affordable housing to the Community Housing Development Fund, which awards local funds to INHS and other housing providers – an amount of that size could be leveraged by affordable housing developers to fund hundreds of units.

Ithaca Times: The Eviction Situation

Ithaca Times: The Eviction Situation

“As time goes on, without any response from the Department of Health, I’m getting less hopeful that we’ll see anything,” Nguyen said. “But another reason to pursue it, as aspirational as it was, was to raise the profile of the people who are suffering from the economic impact of COVID, and that did happen. We got some attention from around the country, and we hoped that would cause some action at the state or federal level. Doesn’t mean there was a ton of impact, but that was definitely part of the calculus, to raise the voices of the people who need assistance.”

Also worrisome, Nguyen said, is the possibility that the state simply stalls for so long that the eviction moratorium ends and the city is still waiting on an answer, sending the tenants that the effort is supposed to benefit into the same limbo they were trying to avoid—and the ITU’s tenacity, and the resilience of tenants citywide, may simply not matter. At some point, the moratorium will end, the rent will be due, and it’s still unknown whether the city will have any answers for the tenants who are counting on it to come through on a ground-breaking, progressive act. 

“At some point, the moratorium will likely end, and these tenants will owe a balloon payment of rent that, if they haven’t been working, are unlikely to be able to pay,” Nguyen said. “I think most people who are able to pay have been paying. Anyone who is severely financially distressed is not going to have any more ability to pay back rent then they do right now. I’m highly concerned about homelessness and exacerbating inequality for people who are already living on the margins.”

Ithaca Voice: Ribbon Cutting welcomes three new businesses downtown

Ithaca Voice: Ribbon Cutting welcomes three new businesses downtown

The first ribbon-cutting ceremony since the COVID-19 pandemic started was held in Downtown Ithaca to celebrate the openings of three new businesses. 

The ceremony was hosted by the Downtown Ithaca Alliance and included a representative from the City of Ithaca Common Council in Ducson Nguyen, alderperson for the 2nd Ward, and the Tompkins County Chamber of Commerce, with President and CEO Jennifer Tavares in attendence.

Shelterforce: Did Ithaca Really Cancel Rent?

Shelterforce: Did Ithaca Really Cancel Rent?

Ducson Nguyen, alderperson for Ithaca’s Second Ward, expressed skepticism that the state health department would approve the request, but maintained that the effort would pressure state legislators to enact more meaningful and effective action. “I’m hoping that even if the Department of Health doesn’t allow this, the New York state Senate and the state Assembly see this incredible need [and] that this crisis is looming.”

Nguyen, who introduced the resolution, agrees with McGonigal’s concerns regarding the city budget, but cites it as a reason to support rent cancellation. “The problem at the local level is that we don’t have much money. We have limited ability to borrow, unlike the federal or state government,” Nguyen says. “I say this as a homeowner and a landlord myself, that being able to own something is a huge privilege. . . . It’s incumbent on us to find a solution that works for the people who have less flexibility in that regard. Landlords will say that it’s not fair to take from me to give to someone else. And that’s why we’re attempting to ask the state to find a solution that lessens the impact on particularly smaller landlords.”

Next City: Will Ithaca’s #CancelRent Resolution Actually Cancel the Rent?

Next City: Will Ithaca’s #CancelRent Resolution Actually Cancel the Rent?

Ithaca Alderperson Ducson Nguyen, who sponsored the resolution, says it was only possible because of intense pressure from the Ithaca Tenants Union and its supporters. The group had initially asked for a change to the city code, Nguyen says, but members of the Common Council told them that it was almost certain to fail. Even the resolution requesting executive authority nearly failed, eventually passing by a vote of 6-4. Nguyen says he’s not holding out hope that the Department of Health will approve the request. 

“We were honest that it was a longshot, but it was a catalyst for other activism,” Nguyen says. “And [hopefully] it gets the state’s attention. Even if they turn us down, it is a clear sign that there’s a crisis.” 

In the event that the state does approve the request, Nguyen says, the mayor still won’t act unilaterally, but instead create a task force that would sort through the most effective ways to cancel rent debt for tenants while protecting small landlords from foreclosure in the process.