LivingADK works to implement variety of programs to improve housing density of Adirondack region
By Jamie Organski
Similar to many resort towns across the nation, the town of Webb has grappled with a housing crisis which has only worsened during the past two years of pandemic. City dwellers who have opted to ride out the pandemic in rural Adirondack towns have outbid local families, purchasing second homes for much more than their market values. This issue, coupled with the drastic increase in short-term residential rentals, has created a perfect storm, leaving the town’s workforce with limited options.
Enter LivingADK’s Community Development Specialist, Daniel Kiefer-Bach. As the head of LivingADK’s housing committee, Kiefer-Bach has made housing his main focus since taking on the job in June.
“There is not one solution that will bring about regional change,” Kiefer-Bach said. “We need more irons in the fire as the issue is not that there isn’t sufficient housing, the problem is housing density. Most housing in the region is STRs and second homes. Rarely do you see four to six people living in houses year-round.”
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A graduate of SUNY Geneseo and UMass Lowell where he earned a master’s degree in community psychology, Kiefer-Bach has extensive experience in program creation and has served as an executive director at an independent senior living community. Kiefer-Bach also has experience working in diverse non-profit settings with youth and individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities and boasts skills in planning, grant acquisition, and consensus building.
Raised in the Rochester area, Kiefer-Bach and his wife, Tayler (an Old Forge native), moved back to the area from Colorado this past summer after accepting two job offers in Old Forge. Tayler is the Community and Special Events Manager at View, the arts center in Old Forge.
A not-for-profit organization established in 2001, the Central Adirondack Partnership for the 21st Century (CAP-21), recently changed its name to LivingADK on Nov. 1 to coincide with the launch of its new website, https://www.livingadk.org/.
In order to align with the region’s long-term goals, LivingADK has shifted its primary focus to four pillars: community vitality, including access to community housing options, broadband, healthcare and an ecologically stable economy. The organization works in many communities in the Western/Central Adirondack region including Forestport up through Blue Mountain Lake, and into Long Lake and Indian Lake.
To start, Kiefer-Bach has been looking into deed restriction programs, such as ones in Vail, Colorado, and Charlevoix County in Michigan, that incentivize homeowners when they voluntarily place restrictions on the deed to their house. The economic incentive program has operated as a small reverse mortgage program, and acts as a down-payment assistance program for those who wish to purchase a home and are willing to put an encumbrance on the home, he explained.
“This is a relatively new model with the first one [originating] in Colorado in 2017,” he said.
In conjunction with Kathy Fox of the Herkimer County Office of the Aging, Kiefer-Bach said he is researching a cohabitation program designed to match older seniors who live alone with a family or individual who is looking to move to the area. This program could serve as a win-win for all parties involved, as older residents who may need assistance with shoveling or home upkeep during the winter months could partner with an individual or family in exchange for reduced rent. All applicants would be subject to background checks and other safety protocol, Kiefer-Bach said.
“A very successful cohabitation program has been in place in Burlington, Vermont, for the past 40 years,” Kiefer-Bach said. “It provides a toe in the door for families who wish to move to the area and while it is not a long-term solution, it gives people help when they need it and improves housing density.”
Kiefer-Bach said he hopes to partner with the Herkimer County Office of the Aging who offered to contribute funds should LivingADK get a cohabitation program up and running in the region. They are looking to move forward quickly and have created a survey to access needs, available here.
Kiefer-Bach reiterated that the housing crisis is not exclusive to the Adirondack region, however it is inspiring that these types of housing assistance programs have proven to have a profound, positive impact on many tourist areas across the country.
“There are lots of resort and ski towns that have had housing issues like this since the 1970s,” Kiefer-Bach said. “To me, we need to put less emphasis on what we aren’t able to achieve , learn from other success stories across the nation, focus more on what similar regions have done successfully and put them into play.”
m101p ad says
I am glad people are beginning to accept there is a problem here and in other areas. Increasing property values often results in a net loss in generational residents as they take the easy money and run. What you are left with are second and third homes that are vacant much of the time. When those people ARE in residence, they demand infrastructure they are used to in other areas, and up goes the taxes. A perfect storm for removing generational residents from any area without strong and varied work opportunities.
As with anything Adirondack, the impending wave of community revitalization is bound to conjure mixed feelings. Indeed, there is a very fine needle to thread; we are living in an age where there are vast ideological minefields of neglected economic constraints and externalities to tiptoe around. In the Adirondack Park, with its incongruent island hamlets in a sea of wilderness that is itself an island in a larger sea of national economic chaos, those limits are more visible, but they exist everywhere as an eventuality. We must embrace those limitations for what they are: not as flukes, but as features. The problem is not, as some would have it, that this grand “design” of things–the limitedness–is foundationaly flawed, but that there is an unwillingness to explore why those limits exist. The Park is not dying from a terminal illness borne of its own stagnation, but from an inadequate immune system, unsuited to the assimilation of inevitable externalities–a variant of “Dutch disease” in which industrial tourism precludes self-determination.
Where grassroots nonprofits in particular are prescient is in their acknowledgement of the inadequacy of any singular solution and in their professed aspiration to minimize the harms of environmental degradation and gentrification. But without seeing a more strong advocacy for addressing root causes, I am conditioned to fear the worst, notwithstanding that those at the helm are better qualified than I’ll ever be. The Georgist in me sees rent subsidies fueling the self-perpetuating cycle of inflation, supply contraction and land speculation; the Lockean sees artificial disruptions handicapping a self-correcting free-market; the Pigovian sees uncontrolled over-development and housing density besmirching community fabric; the eco-economist sees sprawling overuse as a driver of negative environmental externalities; the Jacobean sees the tourism economy as over-reliant on a destructive import.
The Adirondacks is a magical potion of interplaying economic ideologies, and a comparative analysis yields a familiar etymology: community and environmental interests are, at the most primordial level, the same. It is this pharmakon of ideology that keeps us alive, but we are all beholden to it, and yet it is no longer beholden to us–at least until there is a catastrophic crash and we need to collect ourselves from the rubble in the wilderness. Our ideologies have taken on belligerent lives of their own, even though they are all cut from the same tiny corner of the same cloth; counterintuitively, it is the overcompensation for this inconvenient truth that is the source of our current state of paralysing contention. To find our way back home, we need to rediscover the “living” ideology that adapts to the pluralities of real-word constraints–institutions that embrace communities but also communities that embrace community, policies that happily embrace irresoluteness and economies that embrace human morality. That’s what the Adirondack Park was made for: complicated people, complex ecosystems, a bastion of local and national reciprocity. But, yet, the impetus remains: taming the untamed–no longer a wilderness, but now a six-million-acre wild-urban interface, hamets and hotels, Pessoa’s “well staring at the sky”–ideology must perpetually invent new problems for itself to solve amidst the unsolvable. And then, all over again, history repeats itself, with more entropy to contend with each time.
Marcel Carrier says
Congratulations on your article ! A common sense approach is the Co-hab. If they can keep it local and keep government out of it as much as possible it should be successful by providing a disincentive and poison pill for people that would turn properties in to STR’s. Other than the “environmental” aspect of LivingADK, I like it !