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Forum looks at housing crisis in New York’s North Country

North Country Housing Symposium logo
Town of Plattsburgh
North Country Housing Symposium logo

Communities across the region are trying to create more affordable housing. The Town of Plattsburgh recently hosted a Housing Symposium to review the challenges and potential solutions for the region.

A diverse group of stakeholders from six counties traveled to Plattsburgh to discuss housing challenges their communities face.

The Town of Plattsburgh hosted the gathering. Democratic Supervisor Michael Cashman said from escalating rent to a shortage of affordable options, the housing crisis touches every community across the region.

“We’ve witnessed a staggering surge in the median rent, outpacing the growth in household income and the disparity that it places an immense strain on families,” Cashman said. “This is not just a housing crisis. It is a multi-generational challenge which demands our collective attention and action.”

The Lake Champlain-Lake George Regional Planning Board is a community and economic development organization for Warren, Washington, Clinton, Essex and Hamilton counties. Executive Director Beth Gilles explained that during the pandemic they received funding to do an economic resiliency plan. Gilles said their study determined six key housing issues.

“We’ve had dramatic increases in the housing price in the last few years. We’ve had growth in short term rentals in specific communities that have pushed residents out,” reported Gilles. “We’ve had a really low production of housing, only point-one percent increase in housing production in the last decade in the region. We’ve had an increase in seasonal housing. We have labor shortages that are actually contributing to the lack of housing production. And we have a mismatch in the regional wages.”

At the completion of the study, Gilles described some of the strategies they recommended to help address the housing crisis.

“So our number one was to support and grow the capacity of existing housing organizations,” Gilles said. “Sustainable funding for county land banks. I was very glad to see that in the New York state budget. We’re also putting together a zoning guide, a best practices guide, for communities to look at and maybe update their zoning.”

RE-MAX North Country Associate Real Estate Broker Kira Witherwax has been talking with the Town of Plattsburgh about the shortfall and said a multi-faceted approach is needed to address the supply and affordability of housing.

“Housing supply with new construction is where we could make a really big difference long term,” Witherwax said. “We certainly have very immediate challenges with housing, but I do think it’s important that we don’t just focus on what’s right in front of us this minute because these are symptoms of a very old problem. So we need to not just look at what we have to do right now. It’s important that we come up with short-term solutions and also long-term solutions so we don’t end up in the same situation or worse in 10 to 20 years.”

The Advocacy and Resource Center serves those with intellectual and developmental disabilities in Clinton County. Executive Director Robin Pierce told attendees of the forum that they are funded through Medicaid and the more than 700 staff in the North Country deserve higher salaries.

“Even though our starting rate of pay is $17 an hour the work we do deserves to be closer to $25 an hour,” noted Pierce. “But we can’t afford to do that. And because of that our staff have to work second jobs or overtime just to make ends meet. I share that because one of the things that the ARC is looking at is some strategic planning. And what came out of the strategic planning is we need to do something to help our staff with housing. We need to do something to help our staff with food as well.”

The forum looked at a number of options including workforce housing, mobile homes, tiny homes, buyer grants and mixed income development that could be implemented in the towns, villages and cities across the North Country.