January 23, 2022

Population shrinks, but housing expands

Todd R. McAdam/managing editor

Alex Sotelo, of P.E. Dwyer Construction Co. in Lafayette, prepares lumber Friday for a house being built on Sweeney Road in Cortlandville. Cortland County’s population is down, but its housing stock is expanding, U.S. Census data show.

Dan Quinlan shook his head Friday as he left the contractors on his utility vehicle.

“I don’t know why at 65 I’m building another house,” Quinlan said as workers bustled 100 yards behind the house under construction on Sweeney Road in Cortlandville.

But the house will be fine for Quinlan and his wife. And the location is perfect: two minutes from everything, with a view of hills to the east just beginning to see the faintest hint of fall color.

“We just wanted to be up here,” Quinlan said. The house is across the street from the home in which he raised five kids, and one of them will buy that house, too. And the neighborhood got broadband internet access last year.

Perfect. And it’s as good a reason as any to explain why Cortland County’s housing stock increased 1.2% between 2010 and April 2020, even though the county’s population dropped 5.1%

That’s 20,814 units of either single-family homes or rental units, up from 20,577, Census data show.

The demographic shift means 27.8% of housing units are vacant, but real estate agents still report a shortage of homes.

In Tompkins County, the population increased 4.1% in the past decade to 105,740 people. Its housing stock has expanded 12.5% in the same decade.

As more units are built, vacancies have increased 70%, although occupancies are up 8.5%.

In Dryden, in particular, the population dropped about 3.7% since 2010, but the number of housing units has increased 1.8%, with vacancies increasing 35.3%, the Census shows.

A 20/20 Look at Cortland
The decennial Census is a treasure trove of data about the community. Here’s what the latest information shows.

SATURDAY: Cortland County’s population dropped more than 5% in 10 years. Except the minority population, which doubled.
TODAY: The population is down, but the number of housing units is rising. Why?
TUESDAY: Population shifts within the county and its communities will affect representation in city and county governments.

“People are moving more because of COVID, and they’re putting money into their homes and remodeling and doing different things,” said Nabih “Neb” Hage, the principal broker at Hage Real Estate. “We know there’s a demand there, but there is the big problem here — no construction.”

The housing boom of the mid-2000s contributed to a rapid expansion of supply, but it largely missed Cortland County, which added only 461 units between 2000 and 2010. The Census Bureau reported the housing market crash and 2007 and 2008 and the ensuing Great Recession reduced demand and added to vacancies across the nation.

The county added only 237 units from 2010 to 2020, while the rest of the nation increased housing 6.7% in the same period, data show.

However, since the Census data was recorded — in April 2020 — Cortland and other rural communities have become more popular, Hage said, fueling a lack of housing.

“From my perspective, there is a housing shortage,” Hage said. “For first-time homebuyers, there are not as many homes they could buy and move into. By the same token, there are people that have been renters who have the money saved to buy, and they’re also entering the market.”

Hage says renters are an important population of tenants. Census data shows that Cortland County housing units are 53.5% owner-occupied, and 46.5% renter-occupied.

Census data also show that about 11.4% of New York state’s housing was vacant at the start of 2020, similar to Cortland’s vacancy rate of 11.7%.

The total number of housing units countywide increased 1.2% over the past decade. Yet, paired with a 5.1% drop in population, the number of occupied units decreased 1.6% and vacancies increased 27.8%.

However, the housing being built isn’t entirely comparable to the housing that’s already here, said Jamie Yaman, associate broker for Yaman Real Estate.

Most of the single-family homes are well above the median sale prices of other houses — $250,000 or more compared with $150,000 sale prices for existing housing, he said.

There are two general segments of housing that are important to look at, Yaman said. “One is the single-family owner-occupied housing stock, and the other is residential rentals occupied by tenants. We have seen that both the single-family housing market, and the residential rental market, are seeing supply shortages while the demand has only increased.”

The vacancy rate is only one part of the story, Yaman said. The higher-end rental market is growing locally, including the 83-85 Main St., Cortland, building’s renovations to become 12 loft-style apartments, which could bring more people to Cortland County.

“I think that’s where our county is missing opportunities that places like Binghamton, Ithaca and Syracuse are taking,” Yaman said. “They just have a better selection of modern and attractive rentals that appeals to professionals.”

Outside of rental units, the single-family housing market has seen an uptick in people looking for housing, particularly homes with nice outdoor space, Yaman said.

“The pandemic has really opened the eyes of buyers to how important it is to not only have a home that they can enjoy the interior spaces, but the exterior spaces as well,” Yaman said.

Hage said the 2020 Census data, a snapshot as of April 2020, don’t show how many people were looking for new housing during the latter half of the year.

“We have people moving into the area for different reasons,” Hage said. “Such as the internet right now, they could do their business remotely and they don‘t have to be physically in the building to their jobs, so that’s going to help them a lot.”

People who settle into a community are less likely to relocate unless it’s out of the region entirely, Yaman said, because they’re invested and connected to the community and they are more likely to buy housing and begin building their lives.

“Just in the past few years alone, we’ve seen well over 100 higher-end rentals come online in the city of Cortland and village of Homer,” Yaman said. “Without these units, 50 to 75 individuals, couples and families would have likely moved to neighboring counties.”
Managing Editor Todd R. McAdam contributed to this report.