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Reuse dorm for ‘workforce housing’

May 3, 2010
By the board of the Adirondack Housing Development Corporation

Over the past few weeks, there has been growing public awareness of an important local initiative to create 12 rental "workforce housing" units in the former dormitory owned by Paul Smith's College on Church Street, in the vicinity of the Hotel Saranac. The project is being advanced by the Adirondack Housing Development Corporation and will be assisted, in part, by a Community Development Block Grant applied for by the village of Saranac Lake on April 23.

A CDBG is a federal grant for community and economic development activities from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The program is administered in New York by the New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal. The Church Street project is also expected to be provided with a loan guarantee through the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Development Service.

Rental workforce housing units, such as those proposed to be created through this project, are vital to the economic improvement and long-term viability of the Saranac Lake community. Working people in our community and our major employers have all mentioned their great difficulty in finding quality housing at affordable prices in the Saranac Lake area because of high real estate prices and a shortage of rental apartments and houses. Major employers like Adirondack Medical Center, North Country Community College, Trudeau Institute, American Management Association, Paul Smith's College and the full range of state agencies operating in Saranac Lake and Ray Brook have all stated the need for available and affordable housing units.

The lack of quality affordable housing for working people is not a problem in Saranac Lake alone. It is a growing problem regionwide. In the past several decades, a number of factors have combined to increase the value of properties in Saranac Lake and in many other Adirondack Park communities to a point where the purchase of a dwelling is no longer affordable for many year-round residents. Growing recognition that this is a great place to visit and a desirable place to live has increased demand for second homes including units "in town." There has also been an influx of retirees who have often sold high-value homes elsewhere before purchasing new residences in the Adirondacks. Each of these factors has inflated the value of Adirondack residential properties - good news for people lucky enough to own a house here, bad news for others of modest means who are seeking to buy a home in Saranac Lake and its surrounding communities.

The difficulty of securing affordable housing is made more complex by the historic low inventory of quality rental housing units in Saranac Lake. People with moderate incomes have little alternative but to try to compete for relatively high-priced housing which they can hardly afford. Especially affected are first-time home buyers and those seeking to rent housing before making the commitment to buy. Finding a home that is affordable to purchase or lease and one which is also affordable to heat is a challenge that needs to be addressed if we are to encourage younger people to make the commitment to stay and raise families in our community.

The Adirondack Housing Development Corporation is an organization with the capacity to help address the growing need for workforce housing in Saranac Lake and the broader Tri-Lakes area. A not-for-profit organization created in March 2009, AHDC seeks to address one core mission - to provide workforce and market rate housing to meet the needs of workers and employers in the area. Its primary focus is to create affordable units in numbers great enough to make an impact on a key economic problem. In this way it differs from such important groups as Habitat for Humanity which typically delivers quality units one at a time. The AHDC is able to accept grants and loans from the public and private sectors for the acquisition, development and/or renovation of real property for rental or ownership workforce or community housing. These grants and low-interest loans are the key to delivering finished units at prices that are below what is typical in places with relatively high housing costs.

Initially formed by the Harrietstown Housing Authority, AHDC has a separate, seven-person board of directors from the authority and includes community members experienced in housing, real estate development, finance, and economic and community development. The AHDC Board of Directors believes strongly that a truly effective program to build and maintain the local economy must also address such issues as the availability of affordable housing for working people of all ages. Economic development is a complex process with lots of "moving parts." Housing has to be recognized as a key part of the process to get and retain jobs in our community.

The AHDC board is pleased with the cooperation it has received from the village of Saranac Lake, which agreed to apply for the Community Development Block Grant that is such a vital part of the financing package for the Church Street project. We look forward to further discussions of this project as financing commitments continue to be secured and the proposal moves forward toward completion.

The AHDC Board of Directors:

Allen Dunham, chairman

Mary Lawthers

Craig Stevens

Cyndee McGuire

Steve Erman

Terry Gach

Kevin LaPlante

David Aldrich, CEO



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