The Saranac Lake village board made the right call Monday night in directing a $400,000 federal-state housing grant to Adirondack Habitat for Humanity instead of a group that wants to overhaul the former Paul Smith's College dormitory on Church Street, making 12 apartments for middle-income people.
While we agree with the Adirondack Housing Development Corporation that the village could use more middle-income housing, it is also in need of decent-condition housing for those making less. Public funds are better spent to help those who can't help themselves - can't afford to fix up old houses or build new ones - than those who are better able to fend for themselves. Plus, it's more likely that a private developer will build apartments or townhouses for the middle-income employees of Trudeau Institute, Paul Smith's College and Adirondack Medical Center (to repeat the examples cited by the AHDC) than for lower-income families.
This decision also adds more to the tax base, since Habitat homes are fully taxable and the Church Street housing would only be partly taxable. Instead of continuing to wrangle over how much the village would get out of that project, the board took a different direction that seems wise to us. Granted, any taxes the village got from the Church Street property would be more than it's getting now from the tax-exempt college, but if this deal doesn't go through without the grant, there's a good chance the property could be sold to a private entity and become fully taxable.
We appreciate the hard work the AHDC board members put into this project, and we understand why they are frustrated with village officials. But when one steps back and thinks about how to get the most common good out of this housing grant, the decision makes sense.
Habitat might build new homes or renovate any number of old ones. We're in no position to advise this admirable nonprofit group, but with the population dropping and much of Saranac Lake's once-grand housing stock in sorry shape, we suggest that renovation is worth serious consideration.