Stress, desperation, homelessness
Housing shortage taking a toll on people moving to Saranac Lake
SARANAC LAKE — Matt Barkley lived out of his car for a week-and-a-half. Addie Openshaw has spent the last 10 months trying to find a place for her family of five to live after her landlord decided to turn their home into a short-term rental. After months of searching, Jodi Carman finally found a home for her family of three — plus two dogs — but it didn’t come easily.
These are just some of the stories from people struggling to find housing in the Tri-Lakes region, which has a low median income, rising population, few vacant properties and many that need serious repair.
There are a lot of job openings right now, but the people moving here to fill them can’t find places to live. Growing families who can’t afford to purchase property — which has become more expensive in the past year as demand for Adirondack properties continues to skyrocket — struggle to find rentals large enough for their children and pets.
Public housing authorities have long wait lists.
Open apartments get snatched up within hours of being listed.
Facebook pages set up to help apartment searchers find units are filled with desperate pleas from people who are homeless, near homeless or running out of housing options.
Saranac Lake village Trustee Melinda Little believes housing is the biggest issue the village is currently facing.
“This is one of, if not the big thing that Saranac Lake needs to address in the next several years,” she said. “But there’s just no quick fix for it.”
There are many minor fixes that can be implemented over time, but long-term solutions will take years to transpire. There’s so much to do, she said, and any effective solution will cost money.
“There is a reason why housing is so hard,” Little said.
Help is on the way — just not right away.
Housing work group
There’s a housing work group in Saranac Lake that’s been studying housing issues since 2018. When the village got its Downtown Revitalization Initiative grant from the state, the input the village received from its residents at that time catalyzed the creation of the group.
The Village of Saranac Lake Housing Work Group completed its Draft Housing Strategic Plan last month, a report that paints a picture of a village in dire need, but also includes a lot of possible solutions — helping property owners repair their homes, rehabilitating abandoned houses, refocusing code enforcement priorities and mitigating the impacts of short-term vacation rentals.
The group is collecting public comment on its report over the summer in a survey available at https://bit.ly/3i4SPoc.
The results of this survey will be woven into the final draft of the plan, which the housing group expects to complete by December.
Little said the work group is slowing down so its members can enjoy their summer “on the lake with the dragonflies.” She said they can start putting solutions into action in 2022.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development says that a household spending more than 30% of its income on housing means its residents are more likely to struggle to afford basic needs like utilities, food and clothing. The Draft Housing Strategic Plan found that 21% of Saranac Lake owner-occupied households spend more than 30% on housing. It says renter-occupied spending is “unavailable.”
The average income for a family of four in Essex County is $72,400 and $66,400 in Franklin County, according to the plan. To stay under that 30% figure, housing must cost no more than $1,800 and $1,660 per month, respectively.
“Achieving sustainable housing affordability will require higher household incomes,” the plan notes.
Little said the housing group will not be addressing incomes directly, but she said this is important to keep in mind.
According to the Multiple Listing Service real estate tool, in 2020 the average price of a single-family home in the village increased $88,000 from two years prior. The average price of a multi-family home spiked around the same amount in 2020 but has settled more in the first half of 2021.
Subsidized housing applications more than doubled in the past year, according to the Harrietstown Housing Authority.
According to the housing strategic plan, in 2016, the village had 3,080 housing units — 38% owner-occupied, 43% renter-occupied and 19% vacant. Nearly half of these were single-family homes and over 60% were built before 1940.
The plan’s goals are to preserve the existing housing stock, produce new housing, partner with other organizations to support housing, and create and enforce laws governing housing quality and village character.
Little said the village markets tourism all the time, but if it can’t house all the people who work in the service and tourism industries, it will “blow up in our faces.”