By Jill nagy
Close to 900 university students are expected to arrive from overseas in the next few weeks to work at Lake George area hotels, restaurants, and resorts. Business people stress they all need housing, something that is always an issue but appears to be worse this year.
Several properties that were previously available for students have been sold or rented to other summer visitors, according to Gina Mintzer, executive director of the Lake George Regional Chamber of Commerce.
The Chamber is always on the lookout for available motel rooms, cabins, campsites and the like, especially properties with accessible public transportation, she said. They pass on the information to the students who, she pointed out, “are used to paying for housing.” Usually, though, “before we know it, it’s already gone,” she said.
“The students are looking frantically,” she said. Some “couch surf” with fellow students until they can find places of their own. “We try to make sure they are safe.”
One such employer, Lake George Steamship Co., tendered employment offers that were accepted by 22 students.
“I hope they can get here,” said Bill Wilson, who is in charge of food and beverages for the company. He uses two recruiting companies to assist him in finding student employees. He reviews resumes and listens to pre-recorded interviews online.
The steamship company itself does not provide housing. However, Wilson is aware of some viable apartments behind the Lobster Pot restaurant on Canada Street and some cabins on Route 9—three miles away on busy Route 9 with no public transportation available.
The students, according to Mintzer, come from “all around the world.”
In 2019, the last summer before COVID travel restrictions, employees came from 53 countries. In a typical year, there are close to 1,000 of them, she said.
Lake George employers also hire local young people, both high school and college students. Mintzer said there is a slight preference for the international students because their schedules are more flexible and they can stay on into the fall—sometimes beyond that. In fact, she recalled some students who worked through the winter and are back for this summer.
The housing shortage is partly the result of boom times in the Lake George area. Mintzer noted that Lake George had a very good season last year and she expects the same this year. Rooms that used to be available for students have been rented to others, usually for more money.
She is aware of several properties near Bolton Landing that used to house students that have recently been sold. In short, she summed up, “it’s a tighter situation than in the past.” “We need more inventory.”
There has been some discussion of the town and village buying and rehabilitating old motels for student use or building dormitories. However, there are no current plans in place to do that.
Future plans may require grant money to pay for the purchase of vacant property along Route 9 between the village and the outlet stores.
However Jim Siplon, EDC Warren County CEO and president, thinks that the situation for this summer’s student workers in Lake George is, pretty much, under control. “The right people are working on it,” he said.
After a two-year hiatus, it was necessary to “reopen the pipeline” and start bringing international student employees to Lake George again. The next problem was finding housing for them. In the short term, this summer’s student workers have to be housed. “They have a handle on that.”
Beyond the immediate housing emergency, he sees a larger issue for the region. Mid-term, he noted, there is a need for a more enduring home for hospitality workers in Lake George.
The next set of discussions, he said, has to bring in other entities. “This is not just a hospitality problem,” he said. Housing is needed for other temporary workers coming into the area—such as traveling nurses, other short-term medical personnel, farm workers, and others who are part of the economy but not part of the permanent population.
“The need is universal, not just Lake George and the Great Escape,” he said, “It’s one giant regional challenge.” He sees it as a long-term problem as the size of the workforce shrinks.
Michael Bittel, president and CEO of the Adirondack Regional Chamber of Commerce, agreed with Siplon’s analysis of short-term housing, whether for summer student workers or for other short-term workers and families. It is “a vital piece” of the area’s development needs, he said.
“We have to be able to house people and, more important, attract people to come here,” he said. “It’s an issue all the way around,” not just in Lake George, he noted. “We are all working together to develop short-term and long-term plans.”
Bittel said his organization, the EDC Warren County and the Warren-Washington County IDA are partners in the project.
Bittel noted that there are many issues, such as reviewing zoning regulations and encouraging private builders to get involved. “We have to see that things are done properly and in good order and quickly … We are talking about standard, not low-income, housing.”