Three kinds of student housing: Apartment Block, 215 College Avenue and the Grandview

Is Tompkins County ready for a tax exemption that would encourage more owner occupied dwellings? That was the question raised at the Government Operations Committee of the Tompkins County Legislature last week when the committee asked County Assessor Jay Franklin to research Real Property Tax Exemption 421. 

Should Tompkins County pass a local law enacting RP-421, any increase in the assessed value for renovations and improvements made to qualified multi-unit dwellings would be exempt from taxation for one year with the amount of the exemption decreasing each consecutive year. 

Franklin said that he is looking to the local law in Lockport as an example, though Tompkins County would be able to tailor the legislation to better suit the county if need be. 

The Lockport law includes a timetable that gradually decreases the exemption each year from 100 percent the assessed amount of the improvements in the first year to 12.5 percent in the eighth and final year. Franklin said that he expects Tompkins County’s version of the law would also be for eight or possibly 10 years. 

The main caveat: The exemption only applies to multiple unit dwellings undergoing reconstruction, alterations or conversations that would serve to transform the building back into an owner-occupied one or two-family residential property. 

For legislators, this brought to mind the old houses in Ithaca that used to be family homes but have been converted into college student housing.

“As we’ve thought about the housing crisis and the likelihood of student housing off-campus getting built, we could start to see, presumably, homes that were turned into apartments being converted,” said Legislator Martha Robertson (D-Dryden). 

“Is there a way of facilitating those transitions back to family housing?” she wondered. “This seems like it might be a tool that could help. I don’t know how effective it would be, but it could help.” 

Other legislators agreed that it was worth taking a look at, and Franklin agreed to create a draft law for them to look over before the next Government Operations Committee meeting. 

Franklin said that hypothetically the law would help create more owner occupied properties within the county. “It would encourage the restoration of derelict multi-unit properties and hopefully help return them to their former glory as a single home,” he said. 

Franklin added that there is a potential downside; turning a four-unit apartment building into a one-family single unit means taking three units out of the marketplace, which he said won’t necessarily be a bad thing if the corresponding new units are coming onto the market as well.

The law would have to pass the New York State Assembly and the State Senate and then be signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo before coming back to the Tompkins County Legislature for formal adoption.  

It may be possible to move the legislation through the New York State 2017 Legislative Session if the county acts quickly to approve the law, especially if senators Thomas O’Mara and Barbara Lifton agree to sponsor it, Franklin said.

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