New rental units in Tupper Lake hope to attract younger, middle-income residents to the area | News, Sports, Jobs

Leslie Karasin, director of the Northern Forest Center’s Adirondack program, stands in front of one of the lots the organization recently purchased on Park Street in Tupper Lake. (Photo Provided – Amy Feiereisel, NCPR)

The Northern Forest Center, a Northeast nonprofit focused on building stronger rural communities, recently purchased two lots in downtown Tupper Lake. The buildings are on Park Street, and the Northern Forest Center plans to convert them into nine year-round rental units aimed at middle-income residents.

Leslie Karasin is Director of the Northern Forest Center’s Adirondack Program. She said her organization is dedicated to creating and revitalizing housing because it is a key factor in attracting and retaining young people in rural areas.

“We are working to create the conditions to attract and retain young people in Adirondack communities. And we saw this case in particular [the lack of] quality rental housing can be a barrier for someone moving into the community.”

Karasin said that pushed the organization to venture out “Creative solutions to meet this housing need” in states like Maine and New Hampshire. And now they’re doing it in New York, with the two properties in Tupper Lake.

New, quality rental units at a mid-income price

One of the properties is a family home, the other – formerly The Plaza Hotel – is a large building of approximately 6,500 square meters. The North Forest Center intended “to renovate it quite extensively”, said Karazin. “You know, it needs a new roof, it needs extensive foundation work. It could be a full bowel.”

In the end, eight apartments of different sizes (one, two and three bedrooms) and the single-family house next door are to be rented. They expect to rent the units anywhere from $800 to $1,600 a month, depending on the size.

Millinocket, Maine is the first place where the Northern Forest Center delved into housing, buying and renovating about half a dozen homes there.

“It was in response to the fact that employers told us that housing was a barrier to them recruiting skilled workers,” said Karazin.

She said what they hope is that the new Tupper Lake homes will be a model for others, while also providing quality housing for middle-income residents, including younger people who could find jobs in the area.

“The hope is that this is the kind of thing where a young nurse or teacher who moves into the community looks at the housing that we’re offering and says, ‘Oh, yeah, I could do Tupper Lake, my home.’ That is the goal here.”

The financial conundrum of new, quality housing and why nonprofits are stepping in

One of the major challenges when building new homes or renovating old vacant homes is cost. That is expensive and often not worthwhile for developers, said Karasin.

“That makes economics a real challenge for anyone, but especially for a for-profit developer. The profit margins just aren’t there if that’s what you want.”

Renovating and redeveloping the Park Street lots will not be cheap (the NFC predicts a cost of at least $1 million) or easy, and is not the type of thing for-profit developers would seek, Karasin said.

But, “As a non-profit organization, our profit margin is not what we are here for.” She said. “We can usually put together deals that allow us to overinvest in a property compared to what a for-profit developer might do.”

The money comes in the form of soft loans from private investors who want to support the Northern Forest Center’s mission, and private and public grants from organizations like the Adirondack Foundation. Karasin said these groups do “Impact Investments to test a new way to use their funds outside of traditional philanthropic models.”

“Many private individuals, several foundations and even a bank have invested in this approach,” She added. “We are truly grateful for these companies that are helping to make this housing investment possible.”

Karasin said they hope to walk away at the end of the day “We have pleased the community and the properties, we have pleased our tenants and our investors, but not with a lot of money in our pockets.”

Part of a “wave” of new investment and development in downtown Tupper Lake

When asked how this project fits into the larger picture of Tupper Lake housing development, Karasin said she hopes it will be part of a wave of investment and construction that is already underway.

“Tupper Lake has been really proactive and aware of housing issues for quite some time I think and they did a housing study a few years ago to think about how to deal with that.” She said. “So I think, you know, we see this project as one piece of a bigger puzzle.”

“Currently there are some exciting possibilities in relation to the new development of the Oval Wood Dish”, Karasin continued. ‘There’s a proposed hotel and brewery just down the road. I think we look forward to the fact that this segment of the community and the community in general will continue to experience exciting momentum. And that’s by no means the only part of it. It’s just the right size that we can tackle. And you know, we look forward to being a part of that bigger picture too.”

Karasin said Northern Forest Center hopes to be ready and renting out units sometime in 2024. The organization is also considering similar home renovations in Elizabethtown and Keene.

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