Afternoon read: There’s no place like home


Abandoned house with “for sale” sign between Canton and Ogdensburg on Route 68. Photo: Nora Flaherty

The Watertown Daily Times reports today that Ogdensburg is selling the last house in its Neighborhood Stabilization Program. The program, run through the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), aims to “stabiliz[e] communities that have suffered from foreclosures and abandonment…through the purchase and redevelopment of foreclosed and abandoned homes and residential properties.”

Ogdensburg has already sold two other houses (the addresses are in the article if you’re interested) but the impression I’m getting from the paper is that city officials are eager to wash their hands of a program that Ogdensburg officials and the city council have found onerously regulated, difficult to implement, and generally not as helpful as it could have been.

Now, we know housing is a problem in the North Country, albeit not as visible a problem as it is in urban areas where you can see people sleeping outdoors. NCPR did a series on on this very issue back in 2004. Earlier this month, North Country Now spoke with St. Lawrence County Department of Social Services Commissioner Chris Rediehs about homelessness in our area. He said more than 220 homeless people had visited the DSS in the previous year, looking for a place to stay. And he said that number (in a county whose population totals 111,690) doesn’t represent the true number of homeless.

Add to this many who aren’t technically homeless but who are living in substandard, temporary, overcrowded or otherwise inadequate housing because they can’t afford anything better. This article also includes information for people who may be looking for assistance, and here’s the DSS website.

The problems aren’t the same throughout the region: In the Fort Drum area, the struggle is to create affordable housing for the burgeoning population there (as opposed to Ogdensburg’s use of a program designed to stabilize communities with high rates of abandonment.) Meanwhile, in Canton, where I live, it seems every fourth house is for sale, some have been since I moved to the area in spring of 2011, and some are empty¬† — at the same time it’s difficult for renters to find decent places to live in the area.

So to your mind, what’s the principal problem here? What’s the solution? Have you had to live in housing situations that were less-than-ideal situations because of the housing market or for other reasons? Have you taken advantage of federal, or state, or local, housing programs? Please enlighten.

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15 Comments on “Afternoon read: There’s no place like home”

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  1. Paul says:

    Is that an old woman in the window of that house!!! Ahhhhhh!!!!!

  2. Mervel says:

    You kind of have a death spiral of conditions for housing.

    For example in Canton you have a property tax rate of around 4% of your assessed value which when you buy a home is assessed at your purchase price. So a mortgage of 100,000 is going to cost you 4000 per year in taxes, around $333 a month, JUST in taxes not including your mortgage and interest. The problem is that given the situation with the school and the county, this rate will NEVER go down only up. So that is a real issue to be trapped in if you are having a hard time affording a home, so many people are not buying.

    Secondly rentals are jacked up partially due to the student population.

    Thirdly at its core the problem is lack of new economic development, to have new housing to have homes sell you need new people forming new families or moving to a community, that takes economic development, it just does not exist here, I mean we are sitting at over 10% unemployment.

  3. Mervel says:

    Ogdensburg’s first priority should be to buy every other homeowner some paint. They have some great homes over there, but at least half of them need new siding and paint.

  4. Nora Flaherty says:

    I’m not completely sure about the student argument in Canton, although that may well be true in Potsdam. SLU is primarily a residential college so those students don’t generally rent. I’m not sure what Canton’s policy is, but you don’t see a lot of “student rentals” in town (to be fair, I used to live in Ann Arbor, so I may be expecting a higher level of student occupancy than is reasonable to qualify as “a lot”.) Dale Hobson suggested to me once that it’s difficult to find rental housing in Canton in spite of there being a lot of empty houses because many who are selling their houses believe students will do so much damage that they’ll never be able to sell their houses.

    It’s been my experience and that of a few people I know that it’s not that rentals are overpriced, but that they’re just not there. And often when you find people who are renting, they’re just doing so until the owner of the house manages to sell, and then they’re left looking for a new place to live.

  5. Mervel says:

    Oh yeah I was mainly talking about SUNY Canton, which has a larger student population than SLU . But I am not sure how many are living in the village, I think quite a few? But I could be wrong about the impact.

    Yes I think Dale has a point, there has been an SLU tradition of students who live on campus, renting party houses around town. So their parents are generous in that regard paying for two places, but the homes really do get destroyed and this has caused much ill-will from the people I know who live in the village.

    But I do think the landlords in Canton do pretty well with very low vacancy rates.

  6. Paul says:

    Also the people who are working have just been crushed with a 2% payroll tax hike that has lowered their paychecks and their ability to pay that 333 dollar a month property tax bill so things will be getting worse. Surprised that the collapse in consumer confidence in December was not more of a front page story today. Hopefully consumer spending will not follow suit.

  7. mervel says:

    Combine that with a school superintendent who has announced that the Canton School system is fiscally AND educationally bankrupt, why would you move your family there and buy a home? No one seems to have any solutions beyond saying the state needs to give us more money, which is not a solution just a wish and dream, this certainly would be one of the causes for all of those unsold homes in Canton.

  8. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Paul, it wasn’t a payroll tax hike it was the end of a 2% tax holiday.

  9. Rancid Crabtree says:

    Well in that case they aren’t the Bush tax cuts, they are the Bush/Obam tax holidays!

  10. Rancid Crabtree says:

    IIRC about 70% of the property in Oburg is tax exmept either belonging to the Feds, State, OBPA, United Helpers, hospital or the church. Why would anyone paint their house and raise the value?!

  11. Mervel says:

    Self respect?

  12. Rancid Crabtree says:

    Spend much time in the Burg Mervel? There are a lot of good people there do do take pride int heir homes and their upkeep. Those would be the people paying all the taxes. Then there are those who don’t and those would tend to be the people you were asking about in your earlier post.

  13. Mervel says:

    Yes I spend a lot of time in the Berg. I like Ogdensburg, like I said there is some really interesting housing stock in the city. I just think that in all seriousness that they need a beatification program it would make a huge difference.

  14. Rancid Crabtree says:

    Mervel, Oburg has had several “beautification” programs over the 15 or so years I’ve lived up here. Mostly it results in a few businesses getting spruced up and that’s as far as it goes.

  15. Mervel says:

    Yeah I know.

    I also know siding and paint IS expensive. I just think the city has got some great potential, they have a city manager now who really seems like he knows what he is doing, we will see what happens.

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