New group set to study Saranac Lake housing

SARANAC LAKE — A team of village and local stakeholders has been founded to address the housing situation here.

“The perception is that there is very little in terms of good-quality housing for that middle ground of young professionals,” said village Trustee Melinda Little, who got the Housing Work Group together.

While still in its planning stages, Little said the group’s focus is to identify the housing challenges in the village and to incentive solutions. Through anecdotal evidence and community feedback from the Downtown Revitalization Initiative grant process, Little she and other members of the group have repeatedly heard from the local public at large that housing is an issue.

“The purpose of the housing group is to try to … better define those issues,” village Community Development Director Jamie Konkoski said, “not just anecdotally, but also take a bigger, closer look. So the stories we are hearing, can we validate them with some kind of data? Because if we can, then we can identify some strategies for addressing the needs.”

Little said that with this feedback she’s perceived three main housing problems in the village.

First, there is a gap. Thanks to voucher programs, lower-income housing is available. On the opposite side, there are high-income rental units and housing options.

“Then there’s that big gap in between,” Little said. The group aims is to define at what specific income level and demographic this gap exists for.

“There’s a lot of housing stock here,” Little said, “but so much of it is … old and needs to be completely rehabbed.”

The cost of rehabilitating many of the old residences in Saranac Lake is a barrier to young homeowners, Little said. When trying to get loans to undertake extensive modifications, Little said these people are often denied because the cost of the necessary rehabilitation work.

“Other communities might be looking at that stuff and be saying, ‘Let’s tear it all down.'” Little said. “But one of the unique characteristics of Saranac Lake is how important our history is to us. If you tear all that stuff down, then you’re losing a huge amount of that history and the character of the village.”

Lastly, there is the problem of the availability of rental units in the village. As more units are converted to short-term rentals, using services like Airbnb, this depletes the availability for full-time residents.

Group member and Franklin County Industrial Development Agency CEO Jeremy Evans said the group will also work to identify where opportunity exists in the village housing market for new development. He said he’s available to help develop programs and assistance to developers.

“I wouldn’t cast (the Housing Work Group) as an all-negative thing,” he said.

Konkoski said the group is still in what could be called phase one — information gathering. An element of this process is to define what is affordable in Saranac Lake and what affordability means to different income groups.

Working with the state Office of Homes and Community Renewal, Konkoski said the group is working out how to move forward with that data-collection effort.

“What we think our first step will be is to carry out a housing study that gets to a greater level of detail,” Konkoski said. “So that’s what we are exploring right now: what that study would be, what the scope of work would be, and what the potential cost might be.”

Konkoski said they would look for a firm to come in and collect data on the housing market — what’s selling, what’s not, what’s available? Then they would explore the demographics of those looking for housing: what their income level is and what kind of challenges they face.

Phase two would be analyzing that data. Phase three would be taking action.

“We would look for some kind of support from a state program,” Konkoski said, “to help fill the gap in the community.”

The Housing Work Group includes Harrietstown Housing Authority Executive Director Sarah Clarkin, Adirondack Foundation Advisory Board member Susan Waters, village Trustee Patrick Murphy, Little and Konkoski.