New housing is good, but what about what’s needed most?

Lake Placid desperately needs new housing, and three housing developments are in the works. That’s good. The real estate market caught fire this summer, and middle-class people are largely priced out. But only one of these developments would meet the community’s most pressing need.

Last year a housing needs assessment study found the town of North Elba and village of Lake Placid have a need for roughly 1,534 “workforce and affordable level” housing units; about two-thirds of that need, 1,013 units, is for people who make less than $35,150 per year. Affordable rent for that income range was defined as less than $879 per month for an apartment and under $123,000 for a house.

The publicly subsidized MacKenzie Outlook project on Wesvalley Road is supposed to be in that “affordable” range, with monthly rents expected between $691 to $996. The other two current housing developments — Fawn Valley, also on Wesvalley Road, and the Peaks at Lake Placid, on the former W. Alton Jones Cell Science Center property — plan to charge more than that.

New housing for middle- and upper-middle-income people is needed as well, to counterbalance Lake Placid’s tilt toward the rich, but let’s keep in mind all the people who work in this tourist town: at its restaurants, hotels, stores, etc. And that’s not all: Lake Placid police officers, teachers and nurses are forced to commute long distances as well. Not that long ago, there was enough housing for most of these workers to live here, but not since the short-term rental explosion led property owners to convert their apartments and houses for higher profits.

This trend had been seeping in before anyone ever heard of Airbnb, and for many years, local elected leaders’ best answer to priced-out workers was, essentially, “That’s what Wilmington and Saranac Lake are for — bedroom communities.” But as the gap widens, more workers decide the job isn’t worth the trouble. That leaves Lake Placid businesses deeply understaffed — they’ve been struggling with that for years now — which leaves customers underserved, which undermines visitors’ experiences, which leads to bad reviews and damaged brands and ultimately fewer visitors. Every local business person and elected leader should understand this chain between labor and economy.

The housing needs assessment planned for 50% of the local workforce to live within the community. To non-Placidians that might seem like a pretty weak goal, but given the current situation and what builders want to build, it can seem like a pipe dream.

Again, we’re glad some developers are stepping up to build housing, but more is needed to bring workers back. If the private sector fails to meet that serious community need, voters may call for more progressive government action, and that will come with taxes, fees and restrictions — things business owners tend to hate. We think the better option is for private citizens to step up and serve the common good, but they have to get in front of it.

Currently, housing construction is being incentivized to accommodate the 2023 World University Games. If not now, when will anyone build the housing that Lake Placid needs most?


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