By Todd Shimkus
Over the last decade, rising housing prices and rents have made it increasingly difficult for some residents and workers to afford to live in Saratoga Springs.
It is also the case that some businesses are finding it more difficult to attract and retain employees, especially entry-level and lower-wage workers that often live outside of the city in more affordable areas.
So how can our thriving city create workforce housing options to meet these two needs?
Our idea is simple.
We should immediately and collectively identify specific properties in the city that are appropriate for workforce housing. Let’s figure out what it will take to entice developers to be able to build workforce housing at these specific locations and make that happen.
Every property is different and every neighborhood’s uniqueness must be respected.
Each property will pose different challenges.
This site-specific approach to build workforce housing allows our city to be flexible and that is important.
This site-specific approach will allow neighbors to be involved. This process creates a pro-active way to help everyone avoid the not-in-my-backyard issues that have often stopped projects in the city from being approved. Neighbors should and will be involved from the start.
With a site-specific approach, we can do our best to ensure that the properties we select are on bus routes.
We know from talking with area nonprofits that improving transportation linkages between the places people live and local centers of employment has been a challenge. We can fix that this time with a site-specific approach.
Let’s begin this site-specific approach with the property on West Avenue that is now already under consideration for up to 160 units of workforce housing.
This property clearly has a developer that is interested in building this type of housing at this location. This site is on the bus route, near the high school, the hospital and shopping. It would appear to be ideal but let’s not jump to conclusions either.
Let’s work with this developer to learn what it will take to make a project like this happen at this very location. So then even if this developer doesn’t proceed, we will have created an opportunity for others to come forward in the future. And if there are reasons why this specific property won’t work, we’ll know that too.
We believe the Saratoga Diner site on South Broadway deserves consideration for a type of mixed use development that can incorporate workforce housing.
It would be a win-win for the city if a developer could be enticed to build a mixed use project at this specific site. The city wins with the removal of the blighted diner and the beautification of this important gateway into Saratoga Springs. Simultaneously, local workers win with the new housing options that would be allowed on this property which are also on a bus route, near schools and shopping.
Everyone would like to see workforce housing built in the city. We know some of our members are already building this type of housing in communities around the city.
To do so in the city, like in these other towns, the city has to actually achieve cost neutrality for developers. That can be a challenge with the high land costs we have in the city. In some cases, the city may need to consider reducing development fees or expediting the approval process. We may also find that federal and state affordable housing tax credits are required for specific parcels.
The city has significant plans to create new trails. It should therefore target properties for workforce housing that would be adjacent to these trail systems. By doing so, it could help provide walking and biking links for the people that would live there to jobs, schools, and shopping areas.
Like everything else, the solution lies in having a conversation, doing research, listening to one another and working together.
Working collaboratively, we believe we can find other suitable sites for such projects defining what exactly is required to build the housing everyone agrees we need at those specific locations.
We are confident that this path will actually lead to the construction of new workforce housing. It’s a common sense approach that we hope the city and the region will embrace.
Shimkus is president of the Saratoga County Chamber of Commerce.