Commuting offers band-aid solution to housing crisis
For the past four years Audrey Cirullo has lived with her husband and two kids in Prosser Lakeview Estates in a small but affordable three bedroom house.
At $1,600 a month the house was the cheapest rental available in Truckee equipped with a large front yard and trampoline. They now have until August to find another place to go as their landlord is moving back onto the property.
While they have been fortunate enough to afford the rental for so long, they are now tasked with finding a place to live within the same price range.
When the family’s search for a new home began they came across a two bedroom house belonging to a man who lives in New York who owned three other houses in the neighborhood, according to Cirullo. While the rental seemed affordable, there was one problem — the owner wouldn’t allow children in the house.
“He can see our house now. We took really good care of it,” she said. “How can you not allow kids to live there?”
They explored other options, and got approved for a loan to buy a house. However, the $435,000 loan could not get the family an appropriate house. They have since looked into purchasing a house in Verdi and commuting to work in Truckee while keeping their kids enrolled in Glenshire Elementary School.
“We’ve always had it in the back of our head that our landlord could boot us anytime,” she said. “It threw us into panic mode because we love our little house. We always hoped that we could eventually buy it. It’s small but it’s enough for us.”
Cirullo has worked part time as a property manager for second homeowners since moving to Truckee, mainly cleaning houses for those who use their second homes for short term rentals, such as Airbnb and VRBO.
She says nearly half the houses on her street belong to second homeowners. The trend on her street is identical to the town of Truckee with nearly half the town’s homes belonging to second homeowners.
With limited affordable housing options for minimum-wage workers shrinking, many are forced to find cheaper housing elsewhere.
The prospect of new jobs has grown the population from 8,291 in 1993, during the time of its incorporation, to 16,391 in 2016.
In 2016 the median property value in Truckee was 494,400 compared to the statewide median value of 409,300. With cheaper housing options in neighboring cities, many have given up living in close proximity to their jobs, choosing the 20-minute commute and higher gas expenses over a home they cannot afford.
Katie Shaffer, CEO of East River Public Relations in Truckee, first moved to Sierraville with her husband in 2008 after residing in Truckee for 37 years. The two moved back to Truckee briefly to construct a new house before selling it in 2014 and heading back to Sierraville.
“We treat (Sierraville) like a bedroom community. We sleep up there but during the day we earn our living down here,” said Shaffer who commutes to Truckee six days a week.
Both her and her husband work in Truckee, along with her daughter who commutes from Sierraville to teach at Alder Creek Middle School. Shaffer says she knows of more than 40 families who reside in Sierraville with a family member who commutes to Truckee for work every day.
In 1991 the couple built their first home in Truckee, a project Shaffer says can be extremely costly today.
“Over the course of 20 years we’ve built and sold homes and watched district fees skyrocket,” she said. “Today the building permits and fees are astronomical.”
Shaffer said the lower costs of construction is what drove their family to Sierraville.
Today a building permit for a 1,500 square foot home with a garage and deck costs an estimated $12,995. Additional fees include $2,790 to the parks and recreation district, $5,220 to the school district and $1,580 to the fire district, totaling $22,585 before construction can begin.
According to an April report by the Tahoe Prosperity Center, the average annual income per capita in the Tahoe Basin is $30,516. The study also found that less than one in five Lake Tahoe residents are able to afford the median house price.
A 2016 regional housing study reported 76 percent of residents are overpaying for housing, meaning more than 30 percent of their income goes toward housing costs.
“The town of Truckee needs our workforce to be supported with housing that allows them to live here and enjoy the lifestyle Truckee offers,” said Elizabeth Archer, a commuter from Sierraville who runs Inner Rhythms Dance Studio in Truckee.
A former resident of Truckee, she said she enjoys the low cost of living in Sierraville as well as the lack of development and “wide open spaces.” Archer said she attributes the lack of housing to the growing number of vacation homeowners and short-term rentals.
Lack of long-term rentals
Statistics from 2013 show that only 1.7 percent of houses in Truckee are rented out long-term, while 46.8 percent belong to second homeowners and remain unoccupied for most of the year.
A 2015 North Lake Tahoe Tourism Master Plan reported a 238 percent increase of guest visitation at visitor centers from 2010 to 2014. Second homeowners, either visitors or locals, are likely to use sites like Airbnb or VRBO to generate a profit when they’re not using the space.
A search for Airbnb bookings this weekend alone brings up 132 available options in the Truckee area.
“There have to be boundaries set,” said Archer. “Every house can’t be a VRBO rental. Not when we have working families in need of housing.”
Archer worries visitors don’t often contribute to the local community the same as a permanent resident might.
“You can stay in your home and choose the things you want to do but being a part of the community is pretty important.”
Last summer the Glenshire Devonshire Residents Association attempted to put tight restrictions on short-term rentals to free up long-term housing for community members. While the idea was initially met with positivity from residents, others wanted to protect their right to earn extra income on short-term rentals.
Even if new regulations were to be set, state law mandates they may only apply to home purchases that occur after the restrictions are put into place.
The lack of affordable housing and its effect on the economy is not a new issue for Truckee residents. While Lake Tahoe has much to offer for seasonal workers and outdoor enthusiasts, without the availability of cheap housing, workers may be forced to find jobs elsewhere.
Hannah Jones is a reporter for the Truckee Sun. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-550-2652.