SUNY Cortland offers incentives for employees to live in Cortland

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SUNY Cortland will pay as many as five employees up to $4,000 toward the cost of buying a home in selected neighborhoods around campus as part of a Live-In-Cortland Committee program aimed at raising the number of employees who live near the College.

Currently, only about 30 percent do so, according to a committee survey, in large part because many new employees find good, affordable local housing hard to obtain.

The SUNY Cortland Neighborhood Homeownership Pilot Program is designed to encourage all full-time SUNY Cortland and Research Foundation employees to purchase and occupy homes in designated neighborhoods surrounding the campus and along the I-81 entryway to campus.

Employees become eligible for this benefit, which can be used to help pay closing costs or serve as a down payment on an owner-occupied home. Starting July 1, an employee is eligible to receive this benefit by buying a single-family residence within the defined neighborhoods.

Those interested should visit the group’s website for more information regarding the program, eligible neighborhoods and instructions on how to apply.

The Live in Cortland website also serves as a resource for finding suitable rental properties.

“The College and community benefit when our employees live in the city,” observed the committee chair, Randi Storch, a professor and History Department chair. “And we found that when people started off living in Cortland, whether renting or owning, they tended to stay in Cortland.”

The Live-in-Cortland Committee is a voluntary group composed of faculty and staff. Members especially want the College to offer this housing “welcome mat” to all employees but particularly newly hired faculty and staff members moving to Cortland from outside the region. The pilot program will run until the end of the fiscal year or until the $20,000 budgeted for it runs out.

“What we found is that many of the people wanted to live in the city, but found it was impossible to find quality rentals,” Storch said.

Among many other ideas, the committee recommended this project in a May 2014 “Live-In Cortland Initiative” report, which indicated that personnel who live close to campus enjoy greater job satisfaction. The year-long study involved a survey and focus groups that included College and SUNY Research Foundation employees of less than three years, realtors and real estate developers. The findings were presented to SUNY Cortland President Erik J. Bitterbaum.

The survey subjects who decided to live elsewhere were asked for their reasons.

“There’s nothing about our program that’s about telling people where they have to live,” Storch said. “This is about trying to facilitate living in Cortland for people who want to.”

Committee members include Kathleen Burke, professor and chair of the Economics Department; Jose Feliciano, assistant director of admissions; Christopher Kuretich, assistant vice president for student affairs; Tracy Rammacher, director of publications and electronic media; Brian Tobin, head swimming and diving coach; and Carol Van Der Karr, associate provost for academic affairs. Joanne Barry, assistant vice president emeritus for human resources, also served on the committee. David Duryea, vice president for finance and administration, offered the group advice as well as provided the seed money to try the program.

The program first was advertised on campus email.

“Within three minutes after it posted, I got a phone call,” Storch said. “An hour later, I got another call. So I thought that was very exciting.

“I hope they will be spreading the word to their new friends and colleagues. And I hope we will find that five stipends are not enough. I do think anything is possible.

“The big motivation is for stabilization, partnering with the community,” she said.

“It’s going to take a few years to notice that it’s having the kind of impact we want. Of course, hopefully it will become institutionalized and just be part of what we do, something that we can depend upon as part of our recruiting tools.”

Members of the Live-In-Cortland Committee have had conversations with representatives of the school district, hospital and city about what other incentives could be created to attract a strong workforce.

“We’re hoping this is just the start of a larger conversation in the community, with other businesses taking on a similar approach,” she said.