Fact Check: Mayor Rabideau says DRI data “wrong, wrong, wrong”

The claim

In an early-May discussion about affordable housing on his government Facebook page “Citizen Clyde Rabideau,” village of Saranac Lake Mayor Clyde Rabideau claimed a data point submitted in the village’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI) Strategic Investment Plan was “wrong, wrong, wrong.” The plan was released in March 2019.

The figure Rabideau is referring to is on page I-38 of the DRI plan, under Housing Tenure and Total Housing Units. According to that section, “As of 2016, the Village of Saranac Lake had a total of 3,080 housing units. Of those, 38% were owner occupied, 43% were renter occupied and 19% were vacant.”

Rabideau said he “vehemently disagreed” with the figure when it was first presented to the village, and claimed there are few burned out or abandoned buildings in the village today.

Why it Matters

  • Data from the DRI plan is being used by the village’s Housing Work Group, which is slated to provide its recommendations on short term rentals and affordable to the village board next month. 
  • Rabideau has recused himself from discussing short term rentals and housing issues during village board meetings, citing his career as a contractor as the reason, but on his mayoral Facebook page he has stated his position as “hell yes” in regard to out-of-staters buying local homes with cash.
  • Rabideau was the co-chair of the DRI’s local planning committee, which developed the plan. Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism CEO Jim McKenna was the other co-chair.
  • The village was awarded $10 million through the state’s DRI program.

Our Process 

Adirondack Independent News (AIN) first emailed Saranac Lake Village Manager John Sweeney and North Country Regional Economic Development Council Regional Director Stephen Hunt to ask if Rabideau’s comment was accurate, or if the 19% figure in the DRI plan was accurate. If that figure isn’t correct, we were also interested in learning if Rabideau could have insisted on accurate data in his role as co-chair. 

Sweeney forwarded the email to the Housing Work Group and village Community Development Director Jamie Konkoski responded. Hunt didn’t respond, and AIN’s followup email to him was replied to by Empire State Development Deputy Press Secretary Adam Ostrowski, who referred us to the Empire State Development press office. Mercedes Padilla, a public information officer for the New York Department of State, responded.

Padilla’s response

“The key to the success of the DRI is the collaborative and open planning process. When Saranac Lake was selected as a Round 3 DRI winner in 2018, New York State worked with the village to select a Local Planning Committee, which Mayor Rabideau was a co-chair. In several public meetings, the Mayor and fellow co-chair James McKenna worked with the LPC membership to review the final plan and discuss any discrepancies. All the comments and discrepancies expressed during the process are incorporated into the final version of the plan, which was completed over two years ago and is representative of the snapshot in time.

On background:

The data represented on page I-38 of the Saranac Lake DRI Plan are from 2016 American Community Survey, which comes from the US Census.”

Konkoski’s response

“John forwarded your message to me.  I made some inquiries to confirm the source of the data you are questioning.  Please see below for background on data source, calculations, etc.

The margins of error for ACS data are relatively high for small communities because the sample sizes are small.  It is challenging to find reliable data for Saranac Lake, especially because the village spans two counties and three towns.

The housing numbers came from the 2016 ACS Five Year Estimates for Housing Tenure and housing Units. The original data tables are attached.

The percentages that are presented in the document are based on total housing units, not parcels. The vacant units were calculated by subtracting the number of occupied housing units from the total number of housing units in the Village.

For example:

  • Owner Occupied Housing Units make up 38% of the total housing units for the Village.
  • Renter Occupied Housing Units make up 43% of the Total Housing Units
  • The vacant housing units were calculated as the total housing units minus the occupied housing units which comes to 19%.

By the numbers:

  • Total Housing Units: 3,080
  • Owner Occupied Housing Units: 1,180
  • Renter Occupied Housing Units: 1,309
  • Vacant (Unoccupied) Housing Units: 591″

Our Takeaway

Rabideau’s claims do not align with the information we received.

Both responses AIN received indicate that representatives from New York state and the village of Saranac Lake believe the 19% number cited in the DRI plan was reasonably correct at the time the plan was presented. Padilla said the figure came from the U.S.Census Bureau, and said “All the comments and discrepancies expressed during the process are incorporated into the final version of the plan.”

We take Padilla’s statement to mean the state’s position is if Rabideau “vehemently disagreed” with the figure when it was first presented, he had ample opportunity to express those concerns before the plan was submitted to the state. While we understand it is difficult to find reliable data for Saranac Lake, as Konkoski noted, the math she presented is intuitive and makes sense. It is possible, and perhaps even likely, that 19% isn’t exactly correct, but to say it is “wrong, wrong, wrong” is deceptive.

There are two issues at play here. One, the village’s Housing Work Group is using data presented in the DRI plan to inform its recommendations on short term rentals and affordable housing. The mayor is saying he doesn’t believe the data—does that mean he won’t take the group’s recommendations seriously? Two, Rabideau is claiming information provided to the state was inaccurate, and he has know that all along. It is unclear why the figure made its way into the plan, and why Rabideau is casting doubt upon it now.

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