Don Rogers: Careful what you call crisis
October 18, 2018
Regular people can't afford to buy or rent homes here. So businesses can't find enough employees or keep them long enough. Homes that belonged to locals sell at ever-steeper prices to wealthy out-of-towners, who may visit but won't live here. Neighborhoods go mostly dark except on some weekends and holidays. Basically, vacationers are replacing residents. Communities dissolve under the pressure.
This is the lament, anyway.
But the full-time population actually has grown a bit. Lots of kids still go to school here, their numbers running more or less steady for the past decade. This is to say plenty of young families remain, so crucial to a community, along with those with a little more salt in their hair.
Attendance at some recent candidate forums filled to overflowing, a sure test of civic interest. Most boards have contested races, another sign of community health. The Truckee Town Council has seven capable people running for three seats, the airport board five for two openings. There's even a contest for the Truckee Sanitary District board. Let that sink in. This community is rich in engaged citizens.
It wasn’t so long ago housing cost and availability was much less of an issue. We called it the Great Recession.
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Someone's sticking around, despite all.
Maybe we're cooking up a crisis out of a problem, certainly one that has vexed all the ski towns since lifts began running. The only time housing was affordable was when town was a dump, before skiing and after the gold rush. The problems were much bigger then, but housing sure was cheap.
These days, as long as the snow flies during winter and no big fires burn in summer, it's hopping up here. Not a lot of closed storefronts even as business for plenty of reasons is far from easy.
Property values are rising, along with sales tax revenues. Lodging is challenging with the rise of the vacation rentals, which contribute to the housing problem while maybe solving some others.
Local government bank accounts are not exactly hurting, not compared to "normal" America, and there might be more chambers and business associations per capita in the Resort Triangle than anywhere. Squaw Valley is poised for a rather major facelift and village expansion.
This is cold to say, but winter sweeps out the homeless. Crime is low. Party towns have their substance abuse issues, no question. But hellhole isn't the typical message scrawled on a postcard to family in, say, Illinois. More likely: "I know I said I was only going to take a year to play, but well …"
It is hard to live here. Damned hard sometimes. But as crises go, this isn't so, so bad. At least not yet.
Seems everyone wants to live here. Might be only affordability holds them back.
The, yes painful, lack of workforce housing crimps market forces that would bring even more money, more business, more people up here. "Solving" this too well could grease a slide to a larger challenge. Something in a worst case like towns becoming cities, sprawl and the like making second-home ownership and vacations less appealing. That's when businesses close and people leave and aren't replaced. Then housing gets cheap.
It wasn't so long ago housing cost and availability was much less of an issue. We called it the Great Recession.
Now that was a crisis.
Don Rogers is the publisher of the Sierra Sun and The Union, based in Grass Valley. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-477-4299.