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Affordable housing raises unanswered questions

Sierra Countis
Sierra Sun

Affordable-housing regulations in Truckee have many town officials scratching their heads and wondering how best to encourage low-cost housing in one of the state’s most expensive places to live.

Amid much discussion regarding amendments to the town’s development code, one common thread stitched together all the different ideas ” a need for more affordable housing.

“There’s not enough housing for our working core group ” our firefighters, our teachers, our lobbyists,” said John Falk, chairman of the Affordable Housing Working Group, a diverse group of residents who have been meeting for two years to discuss the problem. “People can’t afford to live here. Our ultimate goal is to get housing on the ground and get our community housed.”

Town of Truckee planning commissioners were presented with a challenging task Wednesday: To consider ordinances that would establish regulations for affordable-housing units and require new residential developments to build affordable units as part of the project.

In 2005, the town council adopted a new housing element for the 2025 General Plan that requires new residential projects to include at least 15 percent affordable-housing units. It also creates an employee housing program requiring nonresidential projects to provide affordable housing for at least half of their very low-, low- and moderate-income workforce.

“Many employers came to the council saying it’s harder to get workers (in Truckee),” said Planning Commission chair Bob Johnston in explaining the fundamental reason for the need of affordable-housing ordinances.

Local contractor Tom Grossman of GLA Morris Construction said he is in favor of affordable housing in Truckee, although the inclusionary housing amendments are “better for larger developers because they can afford this all day long.”

The commission referred to the recommendations made by the Affordable Housing Working Group during their deliberation, but not without considering the future impacts the proposed ordinances might have on the town. Town Council will consider the commission’s recommendations on April 19.

One of the most talked about concerns of the evening involved the time period in which affordable-housing controls would be in effect. While the Affordable Housing Working Group recommended the town regulate the controls in perpetuity, the suggestion generated some debate.

“They’re not making any more land,” Falk said.

Truckee resident John Eaton shared similar sentiments.

“The need for affordable housing comes when the housing is built,” Eaton said.

After taking into consideration the 50-year home loans associated with many affordable-home purchases, the planning commission opted to recommend a 55-year control on affordable-housing units, leaving some flexibility for future review of housing controls.

Executive Director Rachelle Pellissier of the Workforce Housing Association of Truckee Tahoe said the organization is just learning of possible problems related to down payment amounts in the purchase of an affordable home. The confusion about down payments is a recent issue that has come up at Spring Creek ” a new batch of affordable homes near Alder Creek Middle School.

Pellissier said it’s important “to make sure we get people in homes that know what they’re getting into.”

Resale prices for affordable units also generated some discussion. Planning Commissioner Tom Murphy asked, “Why would I buy? The goal of buying a home is to get ahead. Is it better to rent?”

The Affordable Housing Working Group recommended that the resale price of an affordable home be tied to the area’s median income. Homeowners would experience some appreciation in the value of their home, but home improvements like granite countertops or a Jacuzzi wouldn’t be allowed, since the additions would no longer make the home affordable.


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