In the county as a whole, 59% of the houses are owner occupied according to the 1990 census. The city of Cortland has only a 43% rate of homeownership. The high rate of city rental property relates to the presence of a college with students living off campus.
As the population ages, more assisted housing will be required, particularly for the middle class income population. Currently there is a construction project of numerous assisted living units on the polo fields on Route 13.
The long-term effects of poverty on this county are evident in the substantial decline of the housing stock. Yet there has been no new public housing in the past 7 years and many people are on the waiting list for public housing for as long as 18 months.
Housing costs for most people represent their largest monthly expense. For many working poor who rent, their income from minimum wage jobs has not caught up with the rents. For those home-owning, low-income families, the cost of upkeep is a problem. The 1990 census shows that nearly 40% of the county residents pay over 35% of their income in housing. The lack of living wage jobs in Cortland County keeps safe, affordable housing out of the hands of the working poor and thwarts the goals of welfare reform.
The three United Way surveys (1990,1995 and 2000) show that adequate paying jobs and affordable housing are among the top ranked problems for the county. According to the Cortland Housing Assistance Council, the county was designated in 1991 as a Difficult Development area. The Council suggested that people and businesses would not relocate in Cortland with the housing stock in such disrepair. It also noted a particular need for short term and temporary housing for runaway and homeless teens and victims of domestic violence.
The Environmental Defense Fund (www.scorecard.org) compares Cortland County with several others with regard to toxins released to the environment, water and land; cancer risk from outdoor air; and pollution related to animal wastes. Our water quality ranks among the cleanest. We rank among the best counties also in the amount of toxic releases to the land. The cancer risk from outdoor air needs attention, as does the disposal of animal wastes.
There are 3 Superfund sites in the county. Two of them pose a "significant threat" as reported by the NYS Public Interest Research Group. The county landfill has the capacity for 20 more years before it is filled. More recycling could extend the life of the landfill.
Cortland does better than expected with the reported cases of one infectious disease linked to the environment, shigella. But for two other such diseases -- E. Coli and salmonella -- we have more cases than would be expected.
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