A demographic with Adirondack challenges
By Tim Rowland
A key point in the Adirondack housing shortage is that it’s disproportionately affecting young people, the result of which shows up in Adirondack Park demographics. Franklin County, for example, lost almost a quarter of its population under the age of 45 from 2000 to 2020. Just to the south, Hamilton County lost nearly half.
Over the years, the boilerplate explanation for the loss of young people has been a lack of opportunity in the Adirondacks. But young people in search of housing and managers in search of employees say the story is less about a lack of opportunity than a lack of housing commensurate with Adirondack salaries.
But some unique remedies are arising, with housing networking increasingly high on the list of success stories.
In Keene Valley, the housing shortage was obvious to Lissa Goldstein, whose family was outgrowing its small home. Goldstein, a homegrown talent, started farming at the family’s Rivermede Farm at the age of 14, and after traveling and working around the world she returned to the Adirondacks where she and her husband Steve Wyatt founded Wild Work Farm, raising fruits and vegetables.
Alexi Worth and his wife Erika meanwhile were selling a summer home near Wild Works. Before it went on the market they began to get calls about its availability. But something else was happening. “An equal number of people started telling us, ‘here’s who you should sell it to,’” Alexi said.
People in Keene Valley valued Goldstein and Wyatt for their contribution to the community and wanted to make sure they could stay.
Erika said she “didn’t want to know” what the house would bring on the open market, so they settled on a price that seemed fair and made the sale. ‘We definitely saw it as what we thought was the right approach,” she said. “You don’t just take what you can get.”
These stories provide not just a tangible, but a psychological benefit to people who might otherwise give up hope. Tyler Barton, programs and communication manager for the Adirondack Center for Writing, said when he and his wife moved to Saranac Lake as the pandemic was squeezing an already tight market, they were warned that housing would be a challenge. That proved accurate, but also true was that many young people were in the same boat and there was some comfort in numbers.
“Whenever you meet someone you have to spend half an hour venting about housing before you even get to know each other,” Barton said.
These meetings naturally evolve into social groups where people are both assisting and competing with one another in the interminable hunt for housing. In Saranac Lake, Barton said housing isn’t found in the classifieds, it’s found through chance encounters at Nori’s Village Market or the weekly farmers market.
The stable rental in which the couple now resides has been earned through a combination of shoe-leather, luck and sleepless nights.
“It can be demoralizing,” Barton said. “There were times we were kind of freaking out at all the unknowns – it creates stress and there’s never a feeling of any kind of security.”
At some point the stories – rentals that were sold out from under the tenants; dashing out of work on rumor of a newly listed home only to find out it already had five offers; inspecting a prospective apartment to the sound of mice scurrying through the walls – foster humor and camaraderie.
“The friends that are our closest friends are because we’ve been through the housing battle together,” Barton said. “No one in that group owns a house yet, but it makes it more fun to get together and vent: ‘Did you see the attic in that place?’”