Friday, November 3, 2023

Housing series recap: What we learned and what’s happening next

group of people in front of a brown house

This week marks the final installment of our Taking Stock of Housing series, with a look back at the high points and a bit of a look forward at what the Adirondack housing issue holds for the future.

Hopefully the park will do a better job of solving the problem over the next 30 years than it has over the past 30 — despite warning calls being voiced back then just as they are today. “…(A)ffordable housing for the middle class is a thing of the past,” wrote Assemblyman Neil Kelleher in a 1992 letter to The North Creek News Enterprise. “A moderately priced home simply can’t be built.”

Keller worried that an economy based on logging and tourism, or “chainsaws and chambermaids,” as he put it, would fail to support the basic necessities of life. Not everyone was so pessimistic. A Town of Jay comprehensive plan drawn up in 1997 felt confident housing construction was adequate to meet housing needs — barring some great upheaval that would send city dwellers scurrying to the wide open wilderness spaces. But what were the odds of that?

Looking ahead

Two new Adirondack housing projects are in the planning phases, one in Lake Placid, the other in the adjoining towns of Schroon and North Hudson.

According to the Adirondack Daily Enterprise, Dakota Partners, of Waltham, Mass., is looking to build 60 apartments and 20 townhomes on 8.7 acres behind the Hanniford supermarket in Lake Placid. While the townhomes would be market rate, the apartments would be targeted toward people with lower incomes under the the New York state Division of Housing and Community Renewal’s Low Income Housing Tax Credit Program.

The project would require a small rerouting of the Jackrabbit Trail, and will fall under Adirondack Park Agency jurisdiction since the apartment building exceeds 40 feet in height.

Meanwhile, Essex County supervisors were voting this week on the sale of 28 acres in North Hudson for $150,000 to Blue Line Development to be used for rental housing to serve the low-to moderate income market.

A twin project is anticipated for the Town of Schroon that will allow the developer to effectively get credit for a full size project, while building smaller projects more tailored to the needs of the two respective communities.

The North Hudson project will be near the state’s Frontier Town campground and the Exit 29 Adirondack Gateway development, which to date includes a craft brewery and a restaurant, coffee bar and camp store. Supervisors hope the housing will attract much-needed employees for these developments to the sparsely populated area.

As a rule, the Adirondack Park does not have expansive old toxic industrial sites that go by the name of brownfields. But brownfields don’t have to be major factory sites, they can be old filling stations or garages or, under state law, anywhere there is even the perception of contamination.

And these sites are eligible for a lot of help, and potentially could be redeveloped into much-needed housing.

New use for brownfield sites

The Northern Forest Center and Adirondack North Country Association hosted a webinar on brownfields last week, in which speakers said communities with organization, planning and the determination to power through the paperwork can be successful spinning blight into assets a community can be proud of. Affordable housing is one possibility.

And the good news is that more money than ever is available for these projects, courtesy of the  Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. “This is really a great time to strike while the iron is hot,” said Cailyn Bruno, director of environmental services for the New Jersey Institute of Technology’s Technical Assistance for Brownfields program.

Sprawling old industrial sites in heavily populated areas are of course eligible, but the funding program “is very much applicable to small communities as well,” said Kylie Peck, Revitalization Specialist at New York State Department of State.

Christian Mercurio, vice president for planning and development for Mohawk Valley EDGE (Economic Development Growth Enterprises) said small communities with small populations and tax bases are typically stymied when seeking to redevelop contaminated sites. But in the Mohawk Valley, even the Village of Oriskany, population 1,360, is working to reimagine an old woolen felt mill. “Don’t let size be a liability,” Mercurio said.

Photo at top: Approximately 30 people gathered at the home of Joelle Nesbitt in Westport for the rebranding of Housing Assistance Program of Essex County to Adirondack Roots. Nesbitt’s family home was saved with a rehab grant through the organization. Photo by Eric Teed for Adirondack Roots

What did you think of the series? Leave a comment below or drop us a line at housing@adirondackexplorer.org.

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Tim Rowland is a humor columnist for Herald-Mail Media in Hagerstown, Md., and a New York Times bestselling author. His books include High Peaks; A History of Hiking the Adirondacks from Noah to Neoprene and Strange and Unusual Stories of New York City. He has climbed the 46 high peaks, is an avid bicyclist, and trout tremble with fear when they see his approaching shadow. He and his wife Beth are residents of Jay, N.Y.




9 Responses

  1. louis curth says:

    Tim Rowland has done a great job in presenting so many threads of information that are part and parcel to our affordable housing dilemma. It has been a learning experience for me and, I suspect for many others too, to be made aware of how far reaching and interconnected the underlying problems related to our housing really are.

    Sadly, I get the feeling, from the meager number of responses to this excellent series sponsored by the Explorer, that most people are either overwhelmed, don’t care, or are too timid to offer their suggestions. Whatever the reason, we do not seem to be moving past reading about our problems to actually fashioning solutions that make sense and are achievable.

    To be a constructive member of our Adirondack community, we need to take this next step that may lead us to practical ways to fix problems that Tim and others have shined a light on.

    As in the old saying; “talk is cheap”. if we are not willing to take that final step from talking about problems, to finding real ways to make peoples lives better, then what have we really achieved?

  2. Todd Eastman says:

    Hmmm, tax second homes for the luxury they are, but risk gutting the lucrative second home construction industry?

    Can a building industry organized around “affordable” housing survive?

    Are there enough year-round residents making enough money to actually afford “affordable” housing?

    Do the towns and hamlets have staff with the expertise to initiate and execute housing programs directed towards local needs?

    Will the APA and other agencies be help or hinderance to creating “affordable” housing in the Park?

    • Boreas says:

      Good questions Todd! It brings up the old adage, “Money talks and BS walks.”

      Another question – why can’t we do BOTH? Isn’t there a way to regulate/enforce a balance between top-end construction and “affordable” housing? This would ensure secure employment of BOTH workforces since one could not proceed without the other. It sure seems to me like APA, Albany, and local governments could come up with a plan to only allow building BOTH at the same time – as needed of course. It seems to me, slowing construction of upper-end McMansions could increase rehabilitation of old/neglected structures as well as increasing construction of new multi-family dwellings, or re-purposing old factories/prisons into good housing. If local/state/federal funding is necessary, get those money channels open – just as is done in inner-city and other urban development projects.

      BTW, where does Dan Stec weigh in on all of this?? I usually knew where Betty Little stood.

  3. louis curth says:

    Hooray! And a shout out to Todd and Boreas for getting the ball rolling with some thoughtful ideas in response to this housing series. Now can we please hear ideas from some more of the Explorer readers?

    Tim Rowland’s series has given all of us all plenty to think about. Here are a few points:
    * How does the lack of affordable housing affect the one in five kids in our area who are facing food insecurity?
    * How does it affect grandparents struggling to pay rising taxes and who now are trying a to raise grandchildren whose parents have became drug addicted or worse?
    * Not enough affordable housing is driving away young people needed by elderly local people of every economic level, whose children are gone. This problem is here now and getting worse! How can we fix it?
    * There are fewer and fewer young people in our local communities to help the elderly with basic daily needs, and for caregiving needed during illness. Is it time to
    revise our health care system?
    * Many Adirondackers cannot afford to move into some far away, pricey eldercare facility, and yet they are increasingly unable to remain in their family homes without assistance. Meanwhile hedge funds are buying up nursing homes and reducing staff levels.
    * The affordable housing crisis is coming down most on the women trying to be mothers, homemakers, and second wage earners. If that wasn’t enough, many are also trying to care for dependent parents and trying to be good mothers raising their young children without the availability of local, affordable childcare options or even willing relatives who can help them. How do we get relief for the stress they are under?

    * One question seems obvious to me? Why aren’t the people that we elect at all levels, doing a better job at seeing and fixing these problems? Isn’t it time to expect the men and women that we elect to work TOGETHER on behalf of we the people who need their help?

  4. Joan Grabe says:

    The elected officials are working on these problems and focusing on the local needs they can address as are many local non profits. The pace may seem glacial but that is due to a variety of issues. Financing, lack of skilled workers, local zoning restrictions and community fears of outsiders. It all depends from which angle you choose to address this. Encourage the trades and apprenticeships for high school students not bound for college, expand broadband so that young professionals can work remotely, encourage professional child care education in local colleges. Expand the number of nursing and medical professional schools in the area, support your local hospital, strengthen support services for the elderly and pray. But not for snow, pray that we can make meaningful advances. It is not just going to take a village. It is going to take a lot of villages working together.

  5. Todd Eastman says:

    How much of the local economies are based on real estate and construction versus tourism?

  6. Alan Reno says:

    Here in Massena, a new 3 bedroom, 3 bathroom home is now open to prospective bidders at a staggering $450K. Its just down my road, maybe 300 yards. $450K in Massena? do the builders and I live in the same world? We’ve lost a third of population in 25 yrs. Meanwhile, I can’t recall the last time someone, anyone constructed a sub-$100K house inside village limits. Just like inside the blue line, there’s an utter lack of houses for 1st time owners, middle or working class. We’re stuck with pre-WW2 housing whose owners have moved or died.

    • Boreas says:

      Alan,

      I am not sure a modest house COULD be built for under $100k with today’s materials costs. But $150k should certainly be doable.

      • Paul says:

        I doubt it. I just heard about a upgrade to a sewer and water line needed for a house in Saranac Lake. A pretty routine job for a new build. That cost just under 100K. That is just to prep the site in the village. Good luck trying to build a decent house for 150K. The Adirondacks are a tricky place to build.

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