Housing plan proposed in Harrietstown

SARANAC LAKE — The Harrietstown Town Council is drafting a housing action plan, proposed by Councilman Jeremy Evans last Thursday, and is looking for public input on things the town can do to address this urgent issue.

Evans said when he got elected in November he knew he wanted housing to be a priority for himself on the board. He believes the town has an important role to play in addressing the issue plaguing its residents.

“Locally, we obviously have a quality problem, and an affordability problem,” Evans said. “I don’t think there’s enough variety as far as the type of housing that’s available. I don’t think there’s enough variety as far as the price levels for housing, whether you’re purchasing a place or renting.”

It can’t just be left up to private organizations, developers or other government agencies, he said.

Through his work as executive director of the Franklin County EDC, Evans has heard from employers who have had potential employees turn down jobs because housing was to expensive and too rare.

On Thursday, he brought a list of seven ideas to the board but said he is “very open” to hearing more ideas “from everybody and anybody.” His goal was to start a conversation.

When the town board meets next on April 18, this will be on the agenda.

There are numerous solutions, Evans said — many making small changes — and nothing is going to happen immediately, but they need to start “moving the needle.”

“We’ve got to start somewhere,” Evans said.

The town board recently passed a resolution to seek becoming a New York certified “pro-housing” community. This is a new designation through the state that allows certified towns to access more than $650 million in state funding.

Evans said, at first, it really just makes a statement about the town’s commitment to housing. Though it would make the town more competitive when seeking housing grants, there are not many right now for Harrietstown to apply for. But in the future, Evans said he expects more grant programs to crop up, so this is a long-term solution.

Before the town can become certified, it needs to collect data on the building code and zoning code to give to the state.

Evans proposed applying for grants to fund home repairs and efficiency upgrades for low-income, moderate-income or senior homeowners.

He also suggested considering temporary property tax exemptions for first-time homebuyers building or rebuilding homes, as well as landlords making major improvements to apartment buildings. He said getting all taxing entities involved — the town, village, school district and county — would make the most impact.

Evans would like to start inviting people from organizations like the Harrietstown Housing Authority, Adirondack Housing Development Corporation or from neighboring towns and the Franklin County land bank to speak at town board meetings.

Another potential solution would be to make it easier and cheaper for town residents to build accessory dwelling units — separate housing units on an existing house property — which are also colloquially known as “mother-in-law apartments.” These could be additions or separate cottages, Evans said, and could become additional income for homeowners.

Evans suggested the town start collecting data and feedback on short-term rentals, to create a registry with emergency contact information. He’s not sure about regulating STRs, like the village of Saranac Lake has done, but said the town needs to talk about the topic.

He also said the town should find new locations for housing. Housing doesn’t take as much room as people assume, Evans said. He looks at the Saranac Lofts, which plan to put 70 apartments on 1.1 acres of land in downtown Saranac Lake of an example of consolidated housing and efficient use of limited land.

Town Supervisor Jordanna Mallach said she is interested in promoting deed restrictions. These are binding clauses that place requirements when a property changes hands. This could stipulate that the property must be sold below a certain price, that it can’t be an STR, that it should go to an owner of a certain income, or that it must be owner-occupied.

Mallach said she’s seen other towns doing this and described it as a long-term, “next-generation” solution.

Councilman Johnny Williams said the state energy code is strict, and only getting more so. Specifically, he’s seen issued with the mandated amount of spray foam.

“I am not a professional when it comes to spray foam, but I know that certain individuals who are authorities in that arena will tell you that anything more than four inches is overkill,” Williams said.

But without a certain envelope in the build, he said sometimes seven inches are required, which can cost thousands or tens of thousands of dollars.

The Harrietstown council will resume its housing discussions on April 18 at 6 p.m. in the basement of the town hall and over Zoom at tinyurl.com/s5dstatn or by using the meeting ID 869 3597 6286 and passcode 304349.


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