Forum seeks answers to affordable housing question | SierraSun.com

Forum seeks answers to affordable housing question

Christina Nelson

When Truckee’s general plan was written in 1995, its housing element included a provision that 20 percent of all new housing built be “affordable.”

The housing element of a general plan is overseen by the state, and when state officials saw the 20 percent inclusionary policy, it struck the item from Truckee’s books.

“As you might have guessed, the state has changed its policy since then,” said Community Development Director Tony Lashbrook, referring to the statewide affordable housing crisis.

Inclusionary housing – a policy that requires all new residential development to include a certain percentage of affordable housing – is only one of the policy measures the town may implement to solve the local housing crisis.

Although it’s been pointed out time and time again that affordable housing is not just a Truckee issue, a forum on Friday sponsored by the California Association of Business, Property and Resource Owners avoided pointing fingers at the causes of a housing shortage.

Instead, the forum was held to inform people about different options and policy issues local governments can consider to solve the problem.

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Explaining terms thrown around often in town council and planning commission meetings like “workforce housing” and “inclusionary housing,” Lashbrook painted a more tangible picture of Truckee’s housing situation.

“[The definitions] are very structured and they’re rigid,” Lashbrook told an audience of builders, architects, elected officials, lawyers and interested citizens.

“One of the challenges of affordable housing is the cost of land,” Lashbrook said. That cost is then compounded by almost $50,000 worth of fees and infrastructure costs.

The town has been pursuing “mixed-use incentives,” which allows residential units mixed with commercial space. With mixed-use projects, the land for residential units is “essentially free,” Lashbrook said.

With the state’s Fair Share Housing Allocation, Truckee will be required to build 321 “very low-income” units, 309 “low-income” units and 408 “moderate-income” units by 2008.

According to Lashbrook’s estimates, “very low-income” families can afford to buy a residence that costs approximately $85,000.

Currently there are eight mobile homes and one condominium that fit into this price range, he said.

Even moderate-income earners are having a tough time finding housing. Moderate income earners make about $70,000 per year, per household. There are six condominiums on the market that fit into a moderate-income price range, Lashbrook said.

Residences in Truckee are still almost exclusively single family homes, Lashbrook said, and the median price of those homes is around $395,000, well above what a moderate-income family can afford.

Adding to the complexity of the housing shortage and high sale prices is that the majority of Truckee residents work in the retail and service sectors, earning between $17,000 and $25,000 per year.

Lashbrook noted that although state and federal governments do play a key roll in developing affordably housing opportunities, the non-profit and private sectors need to participate as well to bring workforce housing to Truckee.

“Our problem is bad and it’s getting worse,” Lashbrook said. “It’s a community issue and it takes a community approach.”