Affordable housing – who can afford it?As prices rise, housing inventory in Truckee dries up | SierraSun.com
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Affordable housing – who can afford it?As prices rise, housing inventory in Truckee dries up

ABHUTCHISON, Sierra Sun

The buzz word is affordable housing.

To some people, when they hear the term they think of a noisy housing complex where eight people are crammed into a one-bedroom apartment.

Others imagine housing inhabited by those likely to commit crime or housing that is ugly to look at.

For some, it is simply a room in a rental unit to share with friends.

According to the standards of federal housing, rent should never be more than 30 percent of a person’s income. Under the federal definition, it is housing that subscribes to some sort of government relief or subsidy program.

“Affordable is a federal definition. Affordability is a concept,” said Tom Ballou, manager of Truckee Pines, Truckee’s only current affordable housing complex.

“Affordable housing means housing that people can afford and it really doesn’t mean too much more than that,” Ballou said. “The idea that affordable housing means slums, crime, ethnic isolation or unsafe conditions is unfortunate.”

With the real estate boom in the past couple of years, a large portion of the rental units available are either sold or are being used for vacation rentals. Local real estate brokers estimate home values in Truckee increased 75 to 100 percent last year, and inventory is way down. It’s become a seller’s market, and middle- to low-income families just can’t afford to buy homes in Truckee right now.

Prudential real estate broker Ron Hemig said the housing market has had a strong buyer demand from Bay Area residents who have extra money to invest in second homes.

However the people who can afford to buy homes in Truckee, don’t live and work here full-time.

“I think the biggest problem is there is absolutely no relationship between the homes being built and the jobs available in the community,” Town of Truckee Community Development Director Tony Lashbrook said.

The median price for homes in Truckee is currently approximately $366,000, Lashbrook said. Last year, the medium home price in Truckee was $209,000. The average cost of a home has increased by 43 percent from last year. The median income in Nevada County for a family of four is $48,000. Thirty percent of $366,000 is $109,800 – more than double the median income in the county.

“My definition of affordable housing is housing that is affordable for the people working in this community,” Lashbrook said.

Even finding loans for home-buyers or qualifying for a grant for down payment assistance is difficult with housing prices this high, Lashbrook said.

“Our scope of available loans has shrunk dramatically,” he said.

Lashbrook said the biggest problem right now is lack of inventory. However, there are some affordable housing projects underway, and other condominium/apartment projects planned as well.

River View Homes, located off of Highway 267 behind Truckee Pines and the rodeo grounds, will provide 39 single family low-income rental homes based on a tax credit/home grant program through the Rural California Housing Corporation. The expected completion date for River View Homes is June 2001. A phone list is currently being compiled for those interested in more information on River View Homes; call (916) 414-4448 and leave your name and phone number on the recording. More information will be available in approximately six months.

A new Sierra Meadows apartment complex, Sierra Village, which just broke ground on Martis Valley Road and Highway 267, will provide 72 units, 56 of which will be 2-,3-,4- bedroom low-income rental units. The other units will be available at market rate.

Northstar-at-Tahoe recently moved forward with plans to increase the number of residential units and build living quarters to accommodate 300 seasonal employees by as early as next summer. Employees will pay rent out of their paychecks.

The Boulders Project on Deerfield Drive will provide condominium units, and the PC-2 development has affordability requirements as well, Lashbrook said.

“Just adding inventory is going to help some,” Lashbrook said. “The best way I know how to deal with it is to put units on the ground.”

At Truckee Pines, rent rates are fixed and don’t fluctuate; with other subsidy programs, as soon as the renter reaches the income limit, they are out of the program, he said.

“Here, the whole idea is to get ahead,” he said. ‘If you’re able to better your position by paying lower rent, that’s the goal.”

Approximately 35 percent of Truckee Pines’ tenants are married couples with children, 15 percent are unmarried adults without children, and 50 percent are single parents with children. Approximately 40 percent of tenants are non-Caucasian.

In a household of one person, the total gross annual income could not exceed $20,520 to qualify to live at Truckee Pines. In a household of four, the total gross income could not exceed $29,280.

“At Truckee Pines, we can only house people whose income does not exceed 60 percent of the county median income. We also have a certain percentage of units available for those whose income does not exceed 50 percent,” Ballou said.

He said Truckee Pines houses people who cover a wide spectrum of the job market in Truckee – school district employees, hospital employees, food service workers, ski resort employees, grocery checkers, bank tellers, golf course maintenance workers, and even a college professor.

Local wages

Here is a sample of local labor force wages (taken from the California Occupational Outlook for Sierra, Nevada, Placer, El Dorado and Alpine Counties). The hourly pay is the median pay for employees ranging from entry level to three years experience:

– Financial managers (1998 data) -$10.77 to $23.97

– Cashier (1999 data) -$6.50 to $8

– Physical Therapist (1999 data) – $19.50 to $29

-Secretaries, except legal and medical (1998 data) -$7 to $10

-Laborers, landscaping and greenskeeping (1998 data) – $6.75 to $8.86

– Elementary school teachers, union (1997 data) – $13.08 to $16.02

-Sales agents, except Real Estate, advertising, insurance agents (1998 data) -$8 to $13.93

– Carpenters (1998 data) -$8.40 to $20


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