Task force wants Jay to be housing hub

Concern over vacant storefronts in downtown AuSable Forks, seen here in December 2013, prompted town of Jay residents to form a housing task force in March. (Enterprise photo — Jessica Collier)

A local task force believes the town of Jay might have a more thriving economy if it becomes more of a bedroom community.

The 15-member group, called the Jay Task Force, released a survey to business owners throughout the region this week to gauge how housing may be affecting their hiring efforts and whether their employees’ housing needs are being met.

“We’re looking for a scientific way to quantify the housing need of employers,” said Bruce Misarski, development director at the Essex County Housing Assistance Program and a member of the Jay Task Force. “We’re hearing from a lot of folks in the Adirondacks about having a hard time hiring new employees because (those prospective employees) are having a hard time finding affordable housing if they took these jobs.”

Misarski said the task force is trying to get a sense of how much a lack of housing may affect their employment prospects.

“There’s an employee shortage for a lot of businesses right now and housing is an obstacle.”

Empty storefronts

Misarski said the Jay Task Force was formed in March amid concerns from the community about the number of empty storefronts in the hamlet of AuSable Forks, one of the three hamlets in the town, along with Jay and Upper Jay.

The group was formed to explore the idea of Jay becoming a regional “hub for housing” and whether people with jobs based in Plattsburgh or the Tri-Lakes would commute from Jay.

Fifteen people came together to provide support and brainstorm ideas for revitalizing the area. They include community members, business owners, lawmakers and members of the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism, HAPEC and the Clinton County Industrial Development Agency.

“Early on, the task force recognized that the town’s housing stock was a valuable community asset and that developing a local housing strategy is key to its economic future,” Misarski said.

Whereas the villages of Lake Placid and Saranac Lake are surrounded by state Forest Preserve that must remain “forever wild,” Jay is mostly private land.

Jay currently has 2,680 property parcels, more than 92% of which are taxable. It’s unclear how many of those properties are residential and how many are commercial or otherwise zoned.

The town is the home of AuSable Acres, a private subdivision established in 1963 by John Eaton, a lumber mill owner. The community has its own roads, a man-made lake and 900 sites of homes. It currently houses more than 400 homes.

On the final 2019 tax rolls, the town had a total taxable value of $273,968,423. Among Essex County’s 18 towns, Jay’s taxable value is in the middle of the pack at eighth highest, below Minerva’s but above Chesterfield’s.

Town Councilman Spencer Reynolds hopes the results of the survey can be used to incentivize developers to bring in new housing, and investors to bring new business to Jay and its hamlets.

“We know that Lake Placid has an extreme housing shortage,” he said. “We know (those problems) extend into Wilmington, Jay, AuSable Forks and Upper Jay.

“We want to get feedback and cull that data to use as a package to attract developers.”

The deadline to complete the survey was July 17, but Reynolds said the task force is looking to extend the survey longer to allow them to garner more responses.