A recent report from the Adirondack Foundation shows that communities throughout the Adirondack Park struggle with a shortage of child care providers, affordable housing and transportation, and drug addiction treatment options, among other things.
But the report also offers hope: Many local organizations have targeted these ongoing issues and are making some headway.
The report is titled, “Meeting the Needs of Adirondack Communities: Challenges and Opportunities” and was based on more than 70 interviews. It was written by Adam Federman, a journalist who grew up in Saranac Lake and is known for his biography of food writer Patience Gray.
It underscores what many residents already know: More families are earning too much to qualify for public assistance but not enough to make ends meet. Access to health services, including elder care and addiction treatment, is limited, as are child care services, transportation, affordable housing and workforce training.
Although most high schools in the area have high graduation rates, in Essex and Franklin counties, the number of students who ultimately choose to go on to a four-year college is low compared to other areas — hurting the financial stability of private and public colleges in the North Country.
“Taken together, these barriers can stymie economic development and impede pathways to educational opportunity,” Federman wrote.
The Adirondack Foundation report shows that social service agencies, nonprofit organizations and community groups are often underfunded and operate with limited staff.
The Adirondack Foundation, a philanthropic organization founded in 1997, will use the report as part of its Generous Acts Fund grant program. In the last five years, 118 nonprofits have received more than $771,000 in grant funding through the program. The foundation has set a goal of awarding $5 million in grants over the next decade.
Working families face obstacles
The United Way created the ALICE threshold — which stands for Asset Limited, Income Restrained, Employed — to highlight the number of families whose income is above the federal poverty level but insufficient to meet what are seen as basic needs.
The latest report from the United Way of New York shows that, although the adjusted federal poverty level for a family of four in 2016 was $24,300, families of four in Essex County would need to make at least $64,812 annually to afford housing, child care, transportation and health care “at a bare-minimum ‘survival’ level.”
Countywide, 10% of families in Essex County fell below the federal poverty level in 2016, according to the United Wat report. The U.S. Census Bureau put it at 11.7% of individuals in 2018.
Another 30% of Essex County families were within the ALICE threshold as of 2016. In North Elba alone, 8% of families were living in poverty and another 35% were within the ALICE threshold.
Among Franklin County families, 18% fell below the federal poverty line, and 28% fell within the ALICE threshold in 2016.
Meanwhile, the number of children in Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Hamilton, St. Lawrence and Warren counties far outweighs the number of available regulated child care slots, the report says.
Affordable housing, rentals
U.S. Housing and Urban Development defines “affordable housing” as a home where residents use less than 30% of their yearly income to cover rent. In Franklin County, 51% of families are considered “rent-burdened,” according to the report. Essex County is close behind, with 49% of families considered rent-burdened.
The shortage of affordable housing options has a direct impact on local businesses — which often struggle to find housing for new employees.
“New factors are also influencing the housing market,” Federman wrote. “Short-term rentals in Lake Placid and other communities, fueled by Airbnb and VRBO, have raised fears that limited rental stock is being removed from the market at a time when it is desperately needed.”
The report points to the work of the Adirondack Community Housing Trust, a nonprofit organization under the Housing Assistance Program of Essex County that was launched more than 10 years ago.
Since 2006, the ACHT has used $1 million in state funding to purchase 25 properties and convert them into affordable housing.
Under the trust’s model, families buy a home and lease the land beneath it from the trust. There are deed restrictions that lay out how much the families can later sell the homes for and who they can sell the homes to, and there’s a cap on appreciation, according to Emily Politi, who once led the trust and currently serves on the board of trustees for its umbrella organization, the Housing Assistance Program of Essex County.
“It’s a really hard buy-in in the Adirondack Park,” she said last month. “People want to own the land. It’s so hard to convince people that, ‘You don’t own the land, but you still have every right to use it, and we’re not going to tell you how to use it.’ I think it’s an easier buy-in when you have more of them, or once you can increase the subsidy.”
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