Housing group hires new chief | SierraSun.com

Housing group hires new chief

David Bunker, Sierra Sun

Almost two years ago Rachelle Pellissier helped found the Workforce Housing Association of Truckee Tahoe; now she finds herself at the helm of the association that is facing one of the region’s most difficult problems.

Pellissier, who replaces outgoing director Joe Guzman, ran the Truckee Donner Chamber of Commerce for six years, and has spent the last year and a half as operations manager for Truckee River Associates. She became executive director of the Workforce Housing Association of Truckee Tahoe (WHATT) on Jan. 1.

“I think that we are blessed to have Rachelle leading WHATT,” said Breeze Cross, president of the association. “She has a great background in the region and with WHATT.”

WHATT is a nonprofit organization composed of business owners, employers and individuals who have assembled to advocate solutions to the region’s affordable housing shortage. The association regularly submits official comments on the affordable housing adequacy of development proposals

Pellissier realized the magnitude of the area’s affordable housing shortage, when, as manager of the Truckee Donner Chamber of Commerce, she collected the results of a study that showed 80 percent of the business owners had a problem recruiting staff because of housing costs. The study included staff positions ranging all the way up to the executive level.

So Pellissier became active in the creation of WHATT in the spring of 2002, and now plans to use her managerial and organizational skills to boost membership and promote affordable housing to governmental, private and public agencies.

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“To date, the membership has been founding members only,” she said. “We need to work on membership. Even if they don’t participate on a daily basis, their voice is important.”

Increasing membership represents only one of the many challenges that await Pellissier if WHATT is to successfully tackle the affordable housing issue.

“There are two issues: ‘How do you deal with the problem that you have already got?’ and ‘How do you ensure that this problem is not exacerbated by new development,'” she said.

Pellissier also realizes that the workforce housing issue is regional and therefore the association must work effectively with three governmental groups: the Town of Truckee, Placer County and Nevada County.

While Truckee has addressed the problem actively with studies and General Plan update meetings, Placer County’s unincorporated areas bordering Truckee are more problematic, Pellissier said.

“Things are not addressed in the same focused manner as in Truckee,” she said, although she added that Placer County has been open and cooperative in making progress on housing.

Pellissier sees WHATT as a much needed proponent of affordable housing in an environment where governmental agencies often only hear disapproval from neighboring residents. WHATT purposefully chose the term “workforce” because “affordable” housing had developed a negative connotation with residents who feared that these housing projects would negatively impact their neighborhood.

One of Pellissier’s first goals is to team up with state partners to do an affordable housing study for the areas in the region not covered in Truckee’s recent seasonal worker and affordable housing studies. WHATT will also continue gathering information and ideas from communities that have successfully alleviated their affordable housing problems, she said.

“That’s why WHATT is so important, if we keep working with the government agencies [the affordable housing problem] will be addressed in the area,” said Pellissier.