When housing issues hit home

housing crisis
Junior artists in the making, Ethan and Landon Russell, show off their personalized vibrant sidewalk chalk masterpiece outside the back porch of a rental house in Old Forge, which served as their home for the past four years. Only July 3, the day after this photo was taken, the family of four received news that they would need to vacate the premises by October and find year-round housing elsewhere, a scenario that is becoming more commonplace in the small tourist town. Photo by Jamie Organski

I was reporting on the short-term rental boom in Old Forge, when my family was forced to move from our rental home of 4 years

By Jamie Organski

It only takes a couple years to figure out that living in a small, tourist town in the Adirondacks is not for the faint of heart. Brutal winters, limited housing and healthcare services, unreliable electric and Internet service, exorbitant cost of living, with many residents working several jobs to make ends meet, and you need daycare, you say? May the odds be ever in your favor. 

As a Town of Webb UFSD graduate, I moved back to the area in 2016 knowing what to expect, and decided that support of close family and enrolling my boys in a small, safe school district outweighed the conveniences of the typical suburban lifestyle. What I couldn’t have predicted is that after spending four years in a small rental house in Old Forge, I would receive a text message this summer informing me that our family of four, consisting of myself, my two sons, my boyfriend, a dog, cat and guinea pigs (oh my!) would need to vacate the premises by October. 

“This is one of the hardest things I have ever had to do, but I need my house back…” That’s as far as I got with the message before running out the door for an interview. As a reporter, I had grown accustomed to putting on a happy face no matter the circumstances, and showing up to do my job with professionalism and grace, okay and yes, maybe I had a nice cry in my car when all was said and done.

I said a few Goosfrabas, wiped my eyes, and instinctively drove to the playground where my ex-husband had brought the boys to play for the evening. I parked away from the basketball court to sneak a peek at what debauchery the boys had gotten into. My oldest held the basketball in one hand above his little brother’s head while palming his forehead and laughing while the little one swung his arms trying to break free. He was shaking from head-to-toe with the giggles before tripping his brother, grabbing the ball and running away like a madman. It was something out of The Three Stooges, and boy did it give perspective.

These little men were just happy to be outside playing without a care in the world. I ran up, hugged them, said I would see them the following day and left them to their shenanigans. They didn’t need to know we had to leave the house they had spent a good deal of their childhoods in. At least, not until we had a concrete plan in place. Would I need to pull them from school, from their friends? I didn’t sleep much for several weeks, opting instead to reach out to as many people as possible in case they heard of any year-round rental properties becoming available. I had to be on the ball, because if a year-round rental was identified in town, it was snatched up in a heartbeat. Think Black Friday mob meets Adirondack housing crisis. I scoured the streets of Old Forge, Inlet, Eagle Bay, Thendara, Forestport and Woodgate looking for rental signs. What I found was an obscene amount of “For Rent” signs, only to discover every one was a short-term rental property. 

Ironically, I had just written a piece about the drastic rise in STRs in the town of Webb, detailing how these properties have been operating unregulated and have increased in number rapidly over the last couple years. Many people had opted to purchase old rundown homes, fix them up and rent them out, and why wouldn’t they when many were making $1,000 a week or more?

Is this what my landlord was planning on doing? Did we take care of this rental house like it was our own home for four years only to be trumped by another tenant who was willing to pay more monthly rent? Did my landlord get the idea from my article or the NCPR article about the young expectant mother and her family who were forced to move from Old Forge as their landlord converted their rental house into a STR? 


RELATED: Town of Webb forges ahead on building new affordable housing


Turns out, my landlord is just as disheartened as I am about what is happening to local families in our community and her daughter was in need of a rental. 

This revelation took some of the sting out of the whole ordeal, she gave us three months to find housing elsewhere, and we parted ways amicably. We also struck gold having family close by, which meant we wouldn’t be totally homeless. 

Flash forward to September and the timing was on our side. We got lucky with a landlord who decided to give a local family a break. We have settled into a small rental home in Old Forge, and while we miss the luxury of a garage, yard, trampoline, swing set and having family members as neighbors, everyone is together, happy and comfortable. What more could a neurotic divorced mother ask for? It could have been so much worse, after all.

I have been hearing the phrase, “Ideally, we need 50 new young families to move to the area” during Webb town board meeting discussions about community sustainability for the past five years, and as far as I can tell, that ain’t happening any time soon. Let’s focus on retaining the few local families we do have down in the trenches first, eh? I have a feeling some may not be as fortunate as I am in being able to stay in the community.

About Jamie Organski

Jamie Organski is an Adirondack area native who has experience as a reporter, photographer and editor. She enjoys sketching outdoor and abstract scenes, reading, kayaking and keeping up with her two rambunctious sons.

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Comments

  1. Mary says

    Jamie, I am so sorry you and your family are experiencing this first hand. STR’s need to be regulated here sooner rather than later but I fear it’s already too late. Too many people are being forced to leave this community and the long-term price of complacency will be devastating. Hang in there and thank you for your writing over the years!

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