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Supervisors encourage creative, actionable solutions to North Tahoe affordable housing crisis

October 25, 2016

Placer County continues to work on ways to improve workforce housing in the North Lake Tahoe region. A recently published study found that workforce housing in this area is inadequate and remedying the situation remains a complicated issue.

At today’s board of supervisors meeting in Kings Beach, the board received presentations on challenges, research findings and recommended strategies to increase the availability of workforce and low income housing in the area.

Tahoe-area employers have identified a lack of affordable rental or homeownership opportunities as a challenge to finding and retaining skilled labor. A recent shift in formerly available long-term rentals to more lucrative short-term rentals may be adding to an already insufficient amount of housing for workers and residents. The combination of a tourism-based economy, which results in a large amount of second homes, and constraints on land availability and regulatory controls are reasons the housing demand continues to exceed available inventory.

“This is hard stuff,” said Stacy Caldwell, chief executive officer of the Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation. “This is a really complex region and we're not just talking about housing, we're talking about people: the people we care about, our neighbors, co-workers, the people who teach our children."

The county recently partnered with Nevada County, the Town of Truckee and the Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation to develop a housing needs assessment that analyzes regional housing-related issues. The research looked at many factors affecting workforce housing. Some of the key findings of the assessment show that:

  • 80 percent of housing units are single-family homes;
  • 65 percent of available housing units are vacant, primarily for vacation use;
  • Almost half of housing units were built before 1979;
  • Median household income is $67,000;
  • Median home price in November 2015 was $538,000;
  • The maximum for-sale home price considered affordable to a four-person lower income household is $235,000;
  • 76 percent of residents surveyed overpay for housing (more than 30 percent of income)
  • The estimated wait list for an affordable rental unit is 6 months to 2 years;
  • An estimated 12,160 housing units are needed to accommodate future workforce;
  • 58.6 percent of local employees commute into the region;
  • 46.6 percent of local residents commute outside the region for work; and
  • The large percentage of commuters into and out of the basin are harmful to the environment, tie up traffic and reduce quality of life.

Based on these and other findings, the assessment recommends a series of policy, organizational and funding options.

For policy changes, the assessment recommends developing a regional workforce housing action plan that can support numerous innovations. These can include housing production targets, changing regulations and development standards, deed restrictions and rehabilitating and preserving existing housing.

Organizationally, the assessment advocates for establishing a regional housing entity that would lead the implementation of an action plan as well as offering advocacy and education.

For funding issues, the assessment offered an innovative suggestion: leverage public assets. With a limited supply of available privately-owned land available for workforce housing, public agency-owned property could be a significant asset for workforce housing production. The use of public lands could also augment local funding for leveraging state and federal housing funds.

Two key county documents support the efforts to improve the housing situation in the North Tahoe/Truckee area: the county’s general plan and the draft Tahoe Basin Area Plan.

Within the county’s general plan is a housing element that include goals and policies that apply to the North Lake Tahoe region. This calls for housing opportunities that meet the needs of Tahoe basin residents and workers.

If approved in early 2017, the proposed Tahoe Basin Area Plan contains policies on developing workforce housing, such as code changes to allow second units on parcels less than an acre and waiving residential allocation and development rights when units are deed restricted as affordable housing. It also includes zoning changes for mixed-use development in the town centers of Kings Beach and Tahoe City. The mixed-use zoning would allow for commercial or retail shops to have apartments upstairs.

The board provided staff guidance about how to proceed in the coming months to continue these efforts, including deeper consideration of all of the ideas brought forth by the assessment.

“I'm really curious how we might be able to take advantage of the short term rental market and encourage longer term rentals,” said District 4 Supervisor Kirk Uhler. “I guarantee you there are folks out there who bought their second homes thinking that renting it out would allow other people to pay for their vacations, and just don't realize the housing crisis we have here and the income potential they could realize by making it a longer term rental. We need to incentivize that.”

District 5 Supervisor Jennifer Montgomery encouraged staff to develop actions that can be successfully implemented in the near term.

“Talk is great, studies are great, but unless we actually take tangible steps to identify properties and start building, we're just going to have a circular conversation and that doesn't serve any of our needs,” she said.

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