Many ideas for solving housing crisis
Forums flesh out ideas for building, restoring, regulating housing in Saranac Lake
SARANAC LAKE — Out of the Saranac Lake Housing Work Group’s many proposed solutions to this area’s housing crisis, some of the most popular among those attending meetings are to restore and preserve existing homes by offering financial incentives, create a land bank for housing development in the county and regulating short-term rentals. On Friday, 16 locals discussed these ideas at the second of four forums held by the work group.
Housing is one of the main issues the village faces, work group member Jeremy Evans said. He said housing is connected to everything in the community — tourism, employment, transportation and the environment.
Most attendees said they knew of someone who has been directly impacted by the housing shortage. Andy Monks-Kelly said he knows of “professionals with PhDs” living in the Paul Smith’s College dorms.
“We know someone who’s literally living in a chicken coop,” Chessie Monks-Kelly said. Andy added that there are no chickens living in the coop, but still, he said it’s shocking.
Of the nine strategies the work group is proposing in its draft strategic plan, the most popular in a survey at last week’s meeting were mitigating the impact of short-term rentals, encouraging rehabilitation of unoccupied homes, assisting multi-family rental property owners with improvements and maintenance.
There was not much discussion of STRs but Saranac Lake activist Fred Balzac said the village should cap the number of investment STR properties allowed.
Balzac added that he believes the village should prioritize cheap, quick options — ones which don’t require outside resources and have an immediate impact.
Several speakers said that the housing that is available is often in disrepair.
“Our existing rental multi-family units, on a whole, are in pretty cruddy shape,” village board Trustee Kelly Brunette said.
Village Community Development Director Jamie Konkoski said the demand for rentals is so high landlords often don’t have time to renovate between tenants.
Saranac Lake resident Shaun Kittle said he sees vacant homes every time he walks around his neighborhood and believes the village should promote building on what’s already there.
“The most eco-friendly building in existence is the one that already exists,” Chessie said.
She’s also partial to rehabilitating existing historic homes, because she works at Historic Saranac Lake. Saranac Lake’s architecture is unique, she said, and there are tax credits available for development that preserves historic value.
Affordability means different things to different people, Andy said. Students, college and high school graduates, single parents and families all have different incomes and expenses, and all need places to live within their means.
Saranac Lake resident Steve Erman said there should be housing options available for everyone, with many levels of housing prices.
Balzac said the federal definition of affordable housing is that it should not cost more than 30% of an individual’s income. He said the village should regulate rent prices so they don’t get too high.
Chessie pointed out that affordable shouldn’t mean small. She said a parent with kids needs a larger home that’s affordable for them.
Erman said he believes new development outside of the hamlet of Saranac Lake is difficult due to Adirondack Park Agency regulations on project size and environmental impact. Hamlets are the least restrictive land class in the park. Inside the village, he said there’s not enough land left to build many single-family houses, which the survey that night showed high demand for.
Because of this, he believes creating a Franklin County land bank is important.
Land banks acquire vacant properties delinquent or foreclosed on their taxes, and allows them to be converted into usable land. The state allows the creation of 35 land banks. There are currently 26 land banks in the state, according to the New York Land Bank Association.
Saranac Lake resident Phil Newton suggested building outside the village, but within other hamlets in the Saranac Lake School District — such as Bloomingdale.
Several speakers said the village should be focusing on the land and development it already has, bringing those up to snuff to be used.
Emergency housing and evictions
Chessie asked if there are places for short-term emergency housing. Samaritan House in Saranac Lake is a common landing spot for people who need that, but it only has so much capacity. Chessie wondered where people displaced by a fire on Park Avenue last year went.
Harrietstown Housing Authority Executive Director Sarah Clarkin said the Harrietstown Town Court has decided to not hear any eviction cases currently. New York state has ended the eviction moratorium it put in place during the coronavirus pandemic, but still has protections on evictions if the tenants can prove they’ve faced “COVID hardship.”
Local courts can choose whether or not they hear eviction cases at all. Clarkin said eviction cases may resume in January, but that deadline has moved before.
“When they do finally open there will be a flood of eviction cases,” she said. “Then I think the problem will become even more intense.”
Newton put his take on one cause of the housing shortage bluntly.
“People like me, we’re not dying,” he said.
He said older residents are able to stay alive and independent longer than ever, thanks to medical advancements. The downside, he said, is that people are not “moving over” to open up homes to younger buyers.
The first housing forum was held on Oct. 7 and two more virtual forums will be held. The first is on Oct. 21 at 1 p.m. and is for realtors and developers. The second is on Oct. 28 at 1 p.m and is for employers.
To participate, realtors, developers and employers must register through either the Calendar page or Housing Project page at www.saranaclakeny.gov.
A survey on the plan is up on the Housing section of the village website until Oct. 30.
After these meetings, the housing work group will make changes to its draft plan. Then, Evans said the “hard work” starts — taking the solutions and putting them into action.