North Lake Tahoe officials weigh in on affordable housing shortage
In all, roughly 25 board members and representatives from the following districts attended the March 2 meeting, which was open to the public:
North Tahoe Public Utility District
Tahoe City Public Utility District
North Lake Tahoe Resort Association
Tahoe City Downtown Association
North Tahoe Business Association
TAHOE CITY, Calif. — To get affordable housing in and around the Lake Tahoe Basin, it’s going to require government agencies pitching in — especially considering the requirements and associated fees they enforce for building in the area.
That’s what North Tahoe Public Utility District board director Phil Thompson suggested at a special joint meeting earlier this month in Tahoe City, attended by various North Tahoe governing entities to discuss recent findings in the “Measuring for Prosperity” report.
“All of these (agency) restrictions make it almost impossible for affordable housing,” Thompson said at the March 2 meeting. “If it costs you an extra $100,000 or $120,000 before you ever even start, I don’t know how that can become affordable housing.
“I think government needs to help tremendously on housing, or else I just don’t know how you do affordable housing.”
According to the “Measuring for Prosperity” report, published this past fall by the nonprofit Tahoe Prosperity Center, the median housing price to median household income ratio is 10 to 1 at Lake Tahoe, meaning area homes cost roughly 10 times more than what locals generally earn.
In comparison, that ratio is lower in nearby Reno (5 to 1) and San Francisco (8 to 1).
One possible way to lower the cost of homes in the basin is by establishing building incentives with conditions, said Dan Wilkins, Tahoe City Public Utility District board director.
“(Units) operating in a way that supports workforce housing, that starts to unlock the rationale for public utility districts, counties, etc. just thinking about fee waivers,” he said. “… I think this notion of incentives through the regulatory process, but with conditions on those incentives, is something to look at.”
Meanwhile, Brett Williams, who serves on the North Lake Tahoe Resort Association board of directors, encourages looking beyond building more homes in the area and rather focus on the existing housing pool.
According to the report, the Tahoe Basin historically has a high rate of second-home ownership, ranging from half to nearly two-thirds depending on the county.
For instance, in Placer County, 59 percent of homes were considered second homes in 2015.
“(The second home) vacancy has a detriment to it, and I think that is something that we need to pursue before maybe adding more supply to a market place — getting more out of the supply we currently have,” Williams said.
Samir Tuma, also on the NLTRA board, voiced a similar opinion.
“You’re not going to build yourself out of this problem,” he said. “I don’t think there is a political nor a community will to say, ‘Well, jeez, we’ll just have 30,000 new housing units.’ It’s not going to happen, so it is a multi-varied equation.”
Contributing to the issue of affordable housing in the region is the challenge of much those who work here make for a living.
According to the report, the per capita income in the basin declined 5.6 percent between 2010 and 2013. Specifically, on the North Shore, income generally declined 9.1 percent, going from just shy of $40,000 annually to slightly more than $35,000.
Meanwhile, regional home prices are bouncing back from the recession, increasing between 10 percent and 15 percent basin-wide since 2013.
“It’s not workforce or housing. It really is ‘and,’” said Heidi Hill Drum, executive director of the Tahoe Prosperity Center. “The housing solution is only a piece of it, the workforce issue is only a piece of it, and that’s why we really need to coordinate and talk.”
This week, the Tahoe Prosperity Center conducted business walks on the South Shore, stopping into a variety of businesses and conducting in-person interviews to learn what challenges they face.
“I think a lot of small businesses struggle with paying wages that can bring these workers into the community, and what really is a living wage in this community,” said Valli Murnane, NLTRA board member, earlier this month in regards to the North Shore. “Obviously, minimum wage doesn’t cut it, and what incentives there are for employers whether it comes from the county or other organizations to help them support their workforce?
“… I’m excited to see what the employers have to say.”
A business walk is also planned for the North Shore, anticipated for later this spring, but specific dates are unknown, as funds needed to coordinate the effort ($10,000) have yet to be secured, Hill Drum said Thursday.
After that walk occurs, Hill Drum said the center will use the information to come up with “actionable, implementable” solutions to the region’s challenges, which may vary for each community, she said.
“I’m not giving any solutions at this point … because once we have a current snapshot of some of the challenges and issues, then we can all work together on the solutions.” she said at the Tahoe City meeting. “ … It’s definitely going to be a partnership. It just can’t be done by government. It just can’t be done by private sector. We look at this as something that our entire community can be impactful (on).”
At the meeting, Ron Treabess, TCPUD board president agreed with Hill Drum: “We really need to address this as a sustainable community. … I think we are going to do it, or we are going to be an influence … to try to bring up this overall situation, which is better done by all of us than each of us picking at it.”
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