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Study: Lake Placid facing ‘workforce housing crisis’

LAKE PLACID — The first bolded line in a housing study released this month: “The town of North Elba and village of Lake Placid are facing a workforce housing crisis.”

The 113-page community housing needs assessment paints a picture of a community where few average-paid workers can afford to live, where the year-round population is declining as houses continue to be bought up by second homeowners and vacationers, and where short-term vacation rentals are exacerbating a worsening housing crunch.

“While the Lake Placid area has long been an immensely popular vacation and second-homeowner destination, the continued erosion of workforce level housing is threatening to further transform the character and composition of the community and constrain future economic growth,” the study says.

This portrait of Lake Placid’s housing crisis will likely come as no surprise to those who live and work here. The lack of affordable housing touches nearly every part of the community, from the local school district’s enrollment — smaller enrollment each year has been a trend at the Lake Placid Central School District since at least 2002, the district hitting a six-year low at the start of this school year with 606 students altogether, and just 24 students entering Kindergarten — to the ability of local business owners to recruit and retain staff, who often struggle to find a place to live.

The study says that with a target of 50% of the local workforce living within the community, North Elba and Lake Placid have a need for roughly 1,534 “workforce and affordable level” housing units — the majority, 1,013 units, for those who make less than $35,150 per year. In the study, affordable for that income range is defined as less than $879 per month for apartments, and under $123,000 for a home.

“Local wage and salary levels are well-below what is needed to afford housing in the community, forcing many to live in surrounding towns and commute to work,” the study says. “Very few quality homes and apartments at workforce-level pricing are available on the market and the lack of available housing is a critical issue facing employers. Many are struggling with employee recruitment and retention, creating a difficult economic environment for new businesses or expansion of existing businesses in the community.”

The study points to short-term vacation rentals not as a cause of this housing crisis, but a factor that is exacerbating the severity of it.

“While it is not possible to make a definitive connection between recent increases in the number of STRs and increasing home prices, there is strong evidence that they are constraining the supply and availability of long-term rental units in the community,” the study says. “At the same time, some year-round residents can afford to stay in the community because of the extra-income from operating STRs. Better data and tracking is needed in the future to fully understand the impacts of STRs on the community.”

The study points to high land and construction costs, and few available sites for development, as real barriers to building new workforce housing.

“For the economics of construction to work, subsidies and incentives are needed,” the study says.

The study identifies three key goals moving forward: Increasing the availability of year-round workforce housing; assisting local residents with securing quality housing at “nonburdensome” prices; and increasing the capacity to address community housing needs, possibly by exploring the creation of a land bank, hiring a dedicated government employee to focus on community housing, or by creating a workforce housing fund to help support development efforts.

The housing study was put together by consulting firm Camoin 310 and the Lake Placid-North Elba Community Development Commission’s Joint Community Housing Committee, or JCHC. The groups spent three months doing research, conducting interviews, publishing an online survey and curating results. They also co-hosted an open house at the Olympic Center this past November designed to solicit public input on Lake Placid’s housing crunch.

The full results of the study are now available online at futurelakeplacid.com. Camoin 310 and members of the JCHC will be presenting their findings at two public meetings on Wednesday, Jan. 22 — one at 2 p.m. in the North Elba Town Hall, with a focus on the short-term vacation rental impacts. That meeting is part of a joint meeting between the North Elba Town Council and the Lake Placid Village Board. The other meeting will be a larger community gathering at 6 p.m. in the auditorium at the Lake Placid Middle-High School.

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