Housing study reveals challenges in county

Chautauqua County has some challenges when it comes to housing.

County officials recently released a Housing Market Assessment and Development Strategy. The 96-page study was prepared by MRB Group on behalf of the Chautauqua County Partnership for Economic Development. The purpose of the study is to help housing providers, municipalities, county agencies, and not-for-profit organizations identify solutions and prepare for future development to meet the needs of county residents. It’s also expected to be used to help leverage grant funds and encourage public-private partnerships.


According to the study, the nature of housing affordability has shifted in recent years. “In the past, general perception has been that ‘middle class’ households could generally afford market rate housing, and that housing affordability was only a concern for ‘poor’ households. However, as housing costs and market rates have risen, this is no longer the case,” the study states.

Households that spend more than 30% of annual income on housing, including rent, mortgage and basic utilities are considered cost burdened.

In Chautauqua County, the Area Median Income for a four-person household in 2023 was $76,000 making 80% of AMI $61,040 and 60% of AMI $46,300. Community members individually earning less than 80% AMI on average include teachers, childcare workers, social workers, construction workers, and in many cases seniors 65 and over.

According to the study:

– Roughly half of renters in Chautauqua County are cost burdened.

– Over 40% of county households earn less than the annual income needed to comfortably afford the average rental unit, including rent and utilities.

– Approximately 53% of county households earn less than the annual income needed to comfortably afford homeownership, including mortgage and utilities.

– About 58% of occupations in the county pay annual wages under 50% of the Area Median Income. The types of jobs earning under this threshold include transportation and material moving; personal care and service (i.e. barbers, home health aides, childcare workers, manicurists, etc.); building and grounds cleaning and maintenance, food preparation and serving related; farming, fishing, and forestry.

– About 27% of occupations in the county pay annual wages between 60-80% of the Area Median Income. These types of jobs include educational instruction and library occupations; construction and extraction occupations; community and entertainment, sports, and media occupations.

– Jobs that earn on average between 80% and 120% of Area Median Income make up 7% of jobs, and are concentrated in legal occupations; computer and mathematical occupations; business and financial operations occupations; and life, physical, and social science occupations.

“Housing affordability is a challenge that impacts a broad range of households in Chautauqua County. Current homeowners are far less likely to be cost burdened, but renting or buying in the current market has become far more challenging and less affordable for many households across income levels,” the study states.


According to the study, over 38% of housing units in Chautauqua County were built prior to 1940, including 46.1% in Dunkirk and 54.8% in Jamestown, compared to 31.4% of housing units statewide.

“Best practice assumes that 3% of all units built prior to 1940 are functionally obsolete, thus requiring more maintenance and upgrading. These units are also unlikely to have modern amenities, such as energy efficiency measures and modern electrical service,” the study states.

Homes built before 1940 have a 70-80% chance of containing lead paint, compared to 40% change for units built after 1970. “Jamestown is designated as a high-risk area for lead exposure by New York state and Chautauqua County has the sixth most incidents of lead poisoning in children in the state,” the study notes.


Local municipal leaders and community agencies identified increasing cost and decreasing quality of rental housing units as a challenge for county residents. In some areas, it is suspected that outside investors are converting rental units into short-term rentals or seasonal housing, exacerbating rental supply challenges.

In other areas, it is believed that many local landlords are unable or unwilling to invest in rental properties due to rising costs, including interest rates, and diminishing returns.

Agencies also report that there is a need for stronger verification of rental unit characteristics, such as accessibility, and landlord reliability, particularly when it comes to housing vulnerable and special populations.


According to the study, despite the challenges in the housing market, the county’s ongoing economic development efforts pave the way for better quality of life by supporting economic growth and vibrancy. County organizations like the Industrial Development Agency or the Partnership for Economic Growth “support and promote projects that bring economic opportunities to the county via business expansion, financial assistance, infrastructure development, as well as enhanced quality of life via more vibrant public spaces and new entertainment and recreational activities.”

The study believes as the county’s network of economic and community partners succeeds in attracting and retaining people in the community, the need for quality, safe, affordable and accessible homes will grow.

“The county’s economic health hinges on attracting individuals for the workforce, providing employment for those individuals, ensuring they have quality housing, and promoting community development that supports their overall well-being,” the study states.


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