The pandemic has spurred the sale of second homes and the short-term vacation rental market is booming, leaving locals and seasonal workers with few affordable options and forcing some to move out of town.
Rick Kipp and his wife Samantha Moore have been renting a little blue house in Old Forge for four years. There is a grill up front and a wind chime hanging from a shade tree. “It’s just a little three bedroom bungalow, really,” Kipp said.
Kipp, Moore, and their three kids live here so it’s pretty small, but they love the location. Children can walk to school and Kipp can walk to work. He cleans and maintains the buildings of the city.
At the beginning of May, there was a knock on their front door. They were served with papers indicating that their lease was not renewed. They had three months to pack up.
“We were panicked” Moore said. “It was very scary.”
Moore worked for years as a waitress at Old Forge. She is pregnant with their fourth child, scheduled for mid-July. âI called everyone I’ve known my whole life, saying, ‘Please, if you hear about something, let me know. “”
Moore and Kipp and grew up in Old Forge and have lived here their entire lives. Their hope was to find a place to buy, stay, and raise their families in Old Forge.
They made an offer on a place in early May. It was out of budget and in bad shape, but Kipp said they were desperate. “They were asking $ 230,000 and the whole interior had to be remodeled and redone and the bathroom floor was sagging.”
Yet their offer was rejected. Kipp says it’s frustrating and sad that people like him, locals who work multiple times to raise young children, can’t afford to buy in their own hometown.
âWe need more affordable housing here. It’s not even a question. Kipp said.
“There is nowhere anyone can live without an extravagant amount of money.”
Real estate, rental market boom
From 2016 to 2020, house prices skyrocketed in Old Forge. Even homes that aren’t on the water’s edge are up 30%, according to local real estate data, and there are fewer homes for sale.
“Properties often sell to the first buyer who gets in the car” says Heather Timm Keen, a real estate agent at Old Forge. âInventories are lower than I have ever seen before and have been doing it for twelve years. “
At the same time, the number of short-term rentals, places like Airbnbs, has exploded. Mike Farmer, the local tourism director, said locals were being excluded from the area, putting the economy at risk.
âWithout affordable housing, we have no future to provide a decent standard of living for the workforce. said the farmer.
The local water park, Enchanted Forest Water Safari, has built its own employee housing and an affordable housing project was also built a few years ago, but there is much more demand for housing in Old Forge than there is. offer.
Bruce Misarski says the same is true in Essex County. âWe have eligible people, we have money available, but no units to buy. “ said Misarski.
Misarski is the Executive Director of the Essex County Housing Assistance Program. The program helps people cover down payments and closing costs. It also offers rental assistance.
Misarski says the Adirondack housing crisis is at a crossroads. “Communities must decide their future and how they want to respond to it” said Misarski.
“We’re trying to help, but it’s really the community’s decision on how they want to move forward.”
Housing developments underway, but few affordable options Some communities are making progress. There is a plan in Tupper Lake to build a mixed income housing complex in the old OWD factory. Lake Placid has three housing projects underway and an apartment building is planned for Saranac Lake, but in both communities less than a quarter of those units would be considered affordable.
In addition, all of these projects are years away from completion. In the meantime, people like Ben Kline in Saranac Lake are now trying to get more units on the market. Kline is on the local housing task force and says they are still looking for places to rehabilitate.
“If something is dropped, can we get our hands on it?” If it is put up for tax auction, can we get our hands on it and try to create housing where there is not currently? “
Kline is a real estate agent in Saranac Lake. Earlier this year, he created a Facebook page to connect potential tenants with affordable housing. One of the commonalities on the page is the few places that allow dogs or cats.
“It’s a challenge because there is already a limited number of housing units available, but there are far fewer that accept pets,” Kline said.
Fewer premises, fewer children in schools
This housing crisis comes at a time when the Adirondacks are experiencing another kind of crisis: the slow decline in school enrollment.
The Saranac Lake school district has shrunk by about a third over the past two decades. The town of Webb, which includes Old Forge, is down 40% to just 250 K-12 children.
The district town of Webb is on the verge of losing four more children. After Rick Kipp and Samantha Moore’s offer was rejected on the house in Old Forge, they got in the car and drove 30 minutes south to see a house in the town of Forestport.
“It was a very nice house and it was in our price range,” Moore said. âWe said it would be the last resort. I doubt that should happen, but it did happen eventually. “
For the first time in his life, Moore and his family are leaving Old Forge. They leave the same school district they went to when they were kids. They have two children with special needs, so she is worried about enrolling them in a new school.
Moore told the kids the move might not last forever.
“Maybe someday down the road we can get back to Old Forge, but let’s see how it works.”
“It helps that it’s a very nice house and that there is so much land”, Moore said. “We are going to put a small trampoline, we are going to put a small playground at the back”
After their lease ends, having been kicked out of their hometown and forced out of their school district, Moore says they are lucky. They were saving for a down payment for months so they could at least afford to move out.
A lot of people in the Adirondacks, Moore says, are living a lot worse.