Tahoe affordable housing: Three stories highlighting the regional crisis | SierraSun.com

Tahoe affordable housing: Three stories highlighting the regional crisis

Claire Cudahy
ccudahy@tahoedailytribune.com

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — Mary Jackson has lived in Tahoe since 1977. She raised three kids here, bought a house here, and laid her husband to rest here — but this week she is packing her belongings in preparation for a move to Carson City.

When Mary's husband of 23 years died in March, her financial situation changed overnight. She found herself unable to make mortgage payments and was forced to put her house on the market.

Though her house sold quickly, Mary, 77, was tossed into a rental market that she couldn't afford on her fixed income.

Everything she could afford, she said apologetically, was best described as a "dump." Waiting lists at the senior homes ranged from two to five years, she explained, and her small dog also posed a problem when it came to qualifying for a rental.

"Facing these facts has been a real eye-opener for me, and if it wasn't for my children looking out for me, I could have become homeless in a matter of time," said Mary, who has been a volunteer at Barton Memorial Hospital for nine years.

"I'm taking an extended leave of absence from the hospital until I can figure out if it will still work for me to come and help out again," she said.

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NOT A LOT OF OPTIONS

Farther down Highway 50, another family contemplates moving off the hill.

Amber Navarrete, 29, lives in a two-bedroom apartment with her husband Angel and three young boys — ages 2, 6 and 8. She's lived in the Tahoe Basin for 22 years now, and is employed as a childcare worker for Tahoe Turning Point where her husband also works.

"They are run-down apartments not in the best part of town. The landlord doesn't ever really fix them," explained Amber. "The outer walls are not insulated, and our landlord recently started charging for gas. Less than a month ago, our rent was raised from $875 to $975."

Amber said they have been looking for a more suitable spot, but can't find anything they can afford, especially with the price of childcare — which, for her 2-year-old son alone, is $900 a month.

"The cheapest three-bedroom we could find that would allow pets was $1,900 a month, and it didn't have a yard," Amber said. "They wanted a $700 deposit for my dog, plus first and last month's rent, and then another deposit on top of that."

Amber said it is difficult — as someone who pays her rent on time, takes care of her apartment and keeps her dog in check — to be lumped in with the stereotype of a destructive "local" tenant.

The family of five is seriously considering moving to Gardnerville. Amber said they found several good housing options, including a three-bedroom home with a large property and garage for $1,100 a month.

"It sucks that we have to move our family that is so embedded in the community. My mother-in-law is here. My kids do football and baseball. They don't understand that we can't afford it anymore," said Amber, pointing to the larger basin-wide issue of minimum wage jobs and seasonal work up against second-home owners and vacation rentals.

'A BEAUTIFUL WORLD UP THERE'

Three-hundred-and-fifty miles away in Elko, Nev., former Lake Tahoe resident David Maxwell scrolls through his Facebook news feed before clicking the share button on a video of a mother bear and cubs swimming in the lake, and another of Joe Carter dancing at Edgewood's American Century Celebrity Golf Championship.

Though he hasn't lived in the Basin for over 20 years, he still follows all the Tahoe-centric Facebook pages.

"I'll never forget coming over the top of Spooner Summit and seeing the lake for the first time. I was in love, and I never wanted to leave. If it hadn't been for my wife being so homesick, I would have never left," said David. "You can talk to anybody in my life, what's the one thing I love beside my wife? Tahoe. It's in my email address. All my passwords relate to Tahoe. It's a beautiful world up there."

David, 52, lived in South Lake in the 1980s and 90s and worked at Harveys Lake Tahoe Hotel and Casino.

"It was actually fairly reasonable to live on the South Shore then," he said. "I was living in a two-bedroom, one-bathroom house. I had a roommate at the time. He sold the house for $79,000. I'd love to have that house now, even though it was a small one."

Though David's wife now supports the idea of moving back to Lake Tahoe with their two children who still live at home, the financial aspect is keeping them away.

"Two years ago I was in a workplace accident when another bus driver rolled the bus I was in, and I injured my back. In just a couple of weeks I'm going to get a payout of $46,000," explained David. "My instant thought was now I can finally afford to move back to Tahoe, but I can't."

Even with the payout going toward a down payment on a house, the industries that David could work in — hospitality, garbage pick-up and bus driving — do not provide either full-time work or high enough wages to support a mortgage payment here.

"With a family, you're looking at $300,000 before you're even into anything that's workable," he said. "Even if I applied all of that $46,000 toward a down payment, I would still owe $250,000, which is still a $1,500 to $2,000 a month house payment.

"Where is the work that is going to support that kind of house payment?"

FINDING A SOLUTION

Stories like Mary's, Amber's and David's are not unique — just delve into the comment section of any Tahoe affordable housing-related post on Facebook these days. But what's being done about it?

On the South Shore, Tahoe Regional Young Professionals is hosting a Tahoe Town Hall on Wednesday, Aug. 17, to talk about affordable-housing issues.

Heidi Hill Drum of Tahoe Prosperity Center, Sara Schrichte of Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation, City of South Lake Tahoe Mayor Wendy David, and Nick Haven of Tahoe Regional Planning Agency will be in attendance.

Following a panel presentation, there will be a Q-and-A. Questions can be submitted online before the event at bit.ly/2b8YLfC, or by using the hashtag #TahoeTownHall on Twitter or Facebook.

The free event will take place from 6-7:30 p.m. at the Tahoe Beach Retreat and Lodge Conference Center.

North shore-Truckee

The affordable housing issue, like Lake Tahoe itself, knows no boundaries, and the situation in Truckee and across the lake’s North Shore is also bleak, especially for seasonal employees and middle class families.

Last week, after months of public forums and presentations, the Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation released the long-awaited 2016 Regional Housing Study report.

The final assessment, at 424 pages, is an in-depth document that covers the areas identified as key to establishing a common understanding and baseline needs assessment for North Tahoe-Truckee.

In the coming weeks, look to SierraSun.com, as well as our print editions, for coverage of the report, including analysis of its statistics and a look at what solutions may lie ahead.