The Saranac Lake Village Board of Trustees has officially rescinded a grant originally offered to a local nonprofit last year for an affordable housing project on Church Street.
During Monday night's regular meeting, trustees voted unanimously to withdraw the $400,000 Community Development Block Grant
Moments later, the board voted 3-1 to reallocate the funds for a future partnership with Habitat for Humanity to rehabilitate dilapidated housing units in the village.
The grant was originally offered to the Adirondack Housing Development Corporation last year. The nonprofit planned to use the funds to purchase a former dormitory on Church Street currently owned by Paul Smith's College with the intent of creating 12-units of affordable housing.
Some trustees expressed concern that the project would create more tax-exempt properties for the village. The board also questioned AHDC's intent to provide affordable housing for nurses, physicians and teachers.
Late last year, trustees offered a proposal to the housing corporation seeking a payment in lieu of taxes for seven subsidized housing units. The remaining apartments would be fully taxable.
AHDC turned down that offer and made a counter-proposal, which was not discussed by the board during Monday night's meeting.
Trustees withdrew the grant funding, opting instead to pursue a partnership with Habitat for Humanity - which Trustee Jeff Branch says he fully supports.
"I think this is a great solution for the $400,000 grant," he said. "It's going to do several things. First of all, it's going to help upgrade and repair some of the dilapidated and broken down homes and get them back into the market. It's going to give couples - young and old - a chance not only to get decent housing, but it will give them a chance at decent housing with an endgame - which is called equity."
Branch adds that the partnership will hopefully be built so that the grant money will eventually be returned to the village, like a revolving fund.
"That's three wins in my book and I'm all for it," he said.
Trustee Allie Pelletieri says the partnership meets the needs of the community and its citizens.
"It also reflects my ideas in having people pay taxes - we all pay taxes and if we all pay taxes, it's a lesser burden on us all," he said.
Pelletieri also pledged to donate a week's worth of work on the first house to be built or refurbished under the partnership.
Trustee John McEneany voted against the resolution entering the village into a partnership with Habitat for Humanity. Following the meeting, he said that wasn't necessarily a vote against the bill, but a request for more information.
"I have some questions on the administration end," he said. "I want to know how Habitat for Humanity chooses its candidates. I'm just unclear and I wanted more time to look at that. But I'm not opposed to it - I think it's an excellent organization that does excellent work. I just had a couple questions that I wanted to get answered and I obviously couldn't get them answered."
Allen Dunham is chairman of the housing corporation's board of directors. He told WNBZ Tuesday he's disappointed with the board's decision to withdraw the grant funding, noting that a recent survey by the Saranac Lake Area Chamber of Commerce showed a need for more affordable housing in the village.
"We felt that this was a very shortsighted decision both by the mayor and this board," Dunham said. "Especially in light of them trying to promote the area for jobs and economic growth - I don't think they fully understand what that really means. Everybody wants jobs, but you can't have jobs without good, affordable workforce housing."
Dunham says AHDC provided an offer to the village that allowed cash flow for the housing project while also paying some taxes to the village through a PILOT.
AHDC board member Steve Erman says the village has shown a - quote - "inability to negotiate."
"They put a proposal on the table and said 'take it or leave it,'" he said. "They told us how much revenue needed to go to the various taxing jurisdictions and what they proposed did not work - it did not allow this project to proceed."
Dunham says the Church Street project cannot move forward at this point, though he adds his board will meet next week to consider other options. But he says other potential projects aren't likely to fulfill the board's original intentions.