Thursday, 21 October 2021 13:24

Notes from the Chamber of Commerce: Let’s Make Building Workforce Housing a Priority

By Todd Shimkus, President of the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce | Business
Photo provided. Photo provided.

Not everything that happened during the pandemic was bad. In fact, the City of Saratoga Spring made significant progress building workforce housing. This started in 2020 with the opening of Intrada Saratoga.

Near the intersection of West Ave and Washington Street, Intrada Saratoga is an affordable housing project providing housing to families on a fixed income. There are 158 housing units, a gym, and community room. They host movie nights, ping-pong tournaments, and morning trail walks. It is near a bus line, 5 minutes from downtown, and has attracted individuals, families, young adults as well as seniors looking for an affordable place to live in Saratoga.

In 2021, the City added the Promenade Apartments to its list of successful workforce housing projects. This project was spearheaded by the Saratoga Springs Housing Authority. The Promenade includes a mid-rise building with 63 rental units and 22 town house apartments. The amenities offered to residents include a fitness room, a community room, laundry facilities and playground equipment. This development is downtown, on South Federal Street, behind the Stonequist apartments.

That’s a total of 243 new units of workforce housing. It’s a success story. A time to celebrate. To make this happen, our government, nonprofit and private sectors worked together. Now we need to do more of this. It’s an economic imperative, especially given what is likely to be a prolonged labor shortage. It’s also about fairness, equity, inclusion and doing the right thing.

So how can we do more of this?

First, they worked because the properties worked. They were in good locations. Close to the downtown and on bus routes. Near large employers and employment centers. The neighbors didn’t oppose these projects. There were no lawsuits filed against the developer or the city by those who lived next door.

Second, they worked because the City collaborated and made it a priority to get the approvals needed locally for each to proceed in a timely manner. The reality is that the state provides grants to incentivize these types of projects. But if you don’t get the application in on time, you lose. 

Third, they worked because the developers knew what they were doing. They hired good teams for the design, approval process and construction. They had a track record to show the state that they could deliver on these promises. 

We have more properties in the city where additional workforce housing has been proposed or talked about. Like Intrada and the Promenade, these locations are also on bus routes and near employment centers. If flexibility is needed, we should do this. If there is a deadline, we should be sensitive to this schedule. Getting more workforce housing built on specific sites that make sense should be a priority. Let’s continue to collaborate to get these projects built. 

We might also want to take a look at how the room sharing industry may have disrupted our more traditional rental market. We know there are more than 800 properties in the city that are now regularly “rented” via online portals like AirBnB and Home Away. This number has risen every year. How many of these units were once rented to individuals and families that wanted to live here full-time? What, if anything, can or should we do about this? 

For the Saratoga County Chamber, getting more workforce housing built in the city and surrounding communities is a priority. It’s how we will be able to enjoy a healthy economy and a diverse, vibrant sustainable community. During our darkest days these past two years, we’ve seen how this can be done. Let’s do more. Let’s build back better.

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