On North Elba’s ‘pro-housing’ designation
The town of North Elba is among 20 communities across the state that will be certified as “pro-housing communities,” Gov. Kathy Hochul announced Tuesday. This means that North Elba will be given priority status when the state disburses grants from a pool of $650 million in discretionary funding.
North Elba deserves credit for working quickly to submit all the necessary paperwork for this certification and for becoming the first — and so far, only — community in the Adirondack Park to obtain this certification. North Elba joins just four others in the North Country to get the certification: The town and village of Canton and the towns of Lowville and Plattsburgh.
The affordable housing crisis in the North Country has been well-documented. The Enterprise has covered the various impacts of this crisis for many, many years — far before we launched an official series for this coverage in 2022. North Country residents know well that the lack of affordable housing is a proverbial crack in our region’s foundation through which other problems have sprouted and grown: Declining school enrollment, staffing issues at local businesses and the ability of local families to put down roots, to name a few.
North Elba’s affordable housing crisis, in particular, has received a lot of attention over the last few years as the town and village of Lake Placid’s elected officials worked together to craft regulations for short-term vacation rentals. Lake Placid has for decades been a popular tourist destination; its hospitality industry underpins the town and village’s economy in a major way. But with the rise in popularity of online vacation rental platforms, the hospitality industry grew to include not just hotels, motels, bed-and-breakfasts and a few other boutique rentals, but also residential apartments, rooms and entire homes in nearly every neighborhood. All of this happened in tandem with the rise in the cost of living, requiring some locals to rent out their rooms or apartments on a short-term basis to be able to afford to live here.
The growth of vacation rentals and the subsequent decline in the availability of long-term rentals was documented in a 2020 town-commissioned housing needs assessment study. 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, according to the study. In the study, affordable for that income range was defined as less than $879 per month for apartments, and under $123,000 for a home.
North Elba is absolutely a “pro-housing community.” Its lawmakers — including Councilwoman Emily Kilburn Politi, who is on the board of Homestead Development, the group behind Fawn Valley — are constantly exploring ways to open the doors for new developments. In the Adirondacks, that’s no easy feat. State protected land is everywhere. There aren’t ample properties upon which housing can be built, nor should there be sprawling complexes that plow down thousands of trees or trample upon fragile environments.
The town has made some headway since this 2020 study. The construction of the MacKenzie Overlook housing development on Wesvalley Road created 60 new units. Right down the street, the Fawn Valley housing project will create a total of six new homes and 16 townhomes once complete. There are also plans for two other housing developments — an as-yet-unnamed housing cooperative off of Averyville Road for approximately 20 to 40 households and Peninsula Village, a project that could create 60 new apartments and 20 new townhomes on land behind Cold Brook Plaza.
Hochul has repeatedly said that she sees increasing the supply of housing as a crucial part of addressing the housing crisis. Kilburn Politi described herself as a “supply gal” in a story from the Watertown Daily Times, reprinted in today’s Enterprise. But Kilburn Politi was right when she went further, saying that increasing supply will also require upgrades to communities’ aging infrastructure. To accommodate new developments, there needs to be reliable and adequate electrical, water, wastewater and broadband infrastructure.
We hope that achieving this “pro-housing community” designation will open more doors for North Elba as the town works to address its housing crisis. According to Hochul’s office, more than 80 municipalities have submitted applications so far — we hope that other Tri-Lakes towns and villages follow suit.