OLD FORGE, NY (WSKG) — The pandemic spurred the sale of second homes and the short-term rental market is booming, leaving locals and seasonal workers with few affordable options and forcing some to leave town.
Rick Kipp and his wife Samantha Moore have been renting a little blue house in Old Forge for the last four years. There’s a grill out front and a wind chime hanging from a shade tree. “It’s just a little three-bedroom bungalow, really,” says Kipp.
Kipp, Moore, and their three kids live here, so it’s on the small side, but they love the location. The kids can walk to school and Kipp can walk to work. He cleans and does maintenance on town buildings.
In early May, there was a knock at their front door. They were served papers that said their lease wasn’t being renewed. They had three months to pack up.
“We were panicked,” says Moore. “It was very scary.”
Moore has worked for years as a waitress in Old Forge. She’s pregnant with their fourth kid, which is due in mid-July. “I called everybody I’ve ever know my whole life, saying like, ‘Please, if you hear of anything let me know.’”
Moore and Kipp and grew up in Old Forge and have lived here all their lives. Their hope was to find a place to buy, to stay, and raise their family in Old Forge.
They made an offer on a place in early May. It was out of their budget and in rough shape, but Kipp says they were desperate. “They were asking for $230,000 and the whole inside of it needed to be remodeled and redone and the bathroom floor was sagging.”
Still, their offer was rejected. Kipp says it’s frustrating and sad that people like him, locals working multiple jobs raising small kids, can’t afford to buy in their own hometown.
“We need more affordable housing here. It’s not even a question,” says Kipp.
“There’s nowhere for anybody to live without an extravagant amount of money.”
Real estate and rental markets boom
From 2016 to 2020, homes prices shot up in Old Forge. Even houses that are not on the waterfront went by up 30%, according to local real estate data, and there are fewer homes for sale.
“Properties are often selling to the first buyer that gets in the car,” says Heather Timm Keen, a real estate agent in Old Forge. “Inventory is lower than I’ve ever seen before and I’ve been doing this for twelve years.”
At the same time, the number of short-term rentals, places like Airbnbs, have skyrocketed. Mike Farmer, the local tourism director, says locals are getting priced out of the area, putting the economy at risk.
“Without affordable housing, we have no future for providing a suitable living for the workforce,” says Farmer.
The local water park, Enchanted Forest Water Safari, built its own employee housing and an affordable housing development was also built a few years back, but there’s a lot more housing demand in Old Forge than there is supply.
Bruce Misarski says the same is true in Essex County. “We have people eligible, we have money available, but no units for people to buy,” says Misarski.
Misarski is the executive director of the Housing Assistance Program of Essex County. The program helps people cover down payments and closing costs. It also offers rental assistance.
Misarski says the housing crisis in the Adirondacks is at a turning point. “Communities need to decide what their future is and how they want to respond to this,” says Misarski.
“We’re trying to help, but it’s really the community’s decision on how they want to move forward.”
Housing developments in the works, but few affordable options
Some communities are making some progress. There’s a plan in Tupper Lake to build a mixed-income housing complex at the old OWD factory. Lake Placid has three housing projects in the works and there’s one apartment building planned for Saranac Lake, but in both communities, less than a quarter of those units would be considered affordable.
Plus all of those projects are years away from completion. In the meantime, people like Ben Kline in Saranac Lake are trying to get more units on the market now. Kline volunteers on the local housing task force and says they’re always looking for places to rehab.
“If anything is abandoned, can we get a hold of that? If it’s going up for tax auction, can we get a hold of that to try and create housing where it doesn’t exist now?”
Kline is a real estate agent in Saranac Lake. Earlier this year, he created a Facebook page to connect potential renters with affordable housing. One of the common threads on the page is how few places allow dogs or cats.
“That’s a challenge because there’s already a limited number of housing units available, but there’s a much smaller number that allow pets,” says Kline.
Fewer locals, fewer kids in local schools
This housing crisis comes at a time when the Adirondacks are seeing another kind of crisis—the slow decline of school enrollments.
Saranac Lake’s school district has shrunk by about a third in the last two decades. The town of Webb, which includes Old Forge, is down 40% to just 250 kids in K-12.
“It was a very nice house and it was in our price range,” says Moore. “We said that will be the last resort. I doubt that’s going to have to happen, but it did end up happening.”
For the first time in her life, Moore and her family are leaving Old Forge. They’re leaving the same school district they went to as kids. They have two children with special needs, so she’s worried about starting them at a new school.
Moore has been telling the kids the move might not be forever.
“Maybe someday down the road we can come back to Old Forge, but let’s see how this works out.”
“It helps that it’s a really nice house and there’s so much land,” says Moore. “We’ll put a little trampoline, we’ll put a little playground in the back”
After their lease was ended, after being priced out of their hometown and forced to move out of their school district, Moore says they’re lucky. They were saving for a downpayment for months so at least they could afford to move. A lot of people in the Adirondacks, Moore says, have it a lot worse.