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Workforce housing organization will get more aggressive

David Bunker
Sierra Sun

When the Truckee town council voted to donate $10,000 to the Workforce Housing Association of Truckee Tahoe on May 19, it marked the beginning of an ambitious change of course for the three-year-old affordable housing group.

The association plans to move from being a housing advocate to a landowner and developer. It’s a move that signals a more aggressive role in the battle to bring a wider array of housing to a region of increasingly expensive homes.

Truckee’s donation will be added to $50,000 put up by the North Lake Tahoe Resort Association and Placer County to develop a business plan for the housing group’s new venture.

“It’s very ambitious,” said Rachelle Pellissier, executive director of the Workforce Housing Association of Truckee Tahoe. “It is going to take a lot of work.”

After three years of advocacy, the organization realized that there was a missing link in the affordable housing chain ” a group to actually build affordable homes.

The workforce housing association’s accomplishments have been impressive, but those milestones are hollow achievements if affordable homes don’t start going up in the region, said WHATT founder Breeze Cross.

“We’re not getting housing on the ground and that is the challenge being faced by the region,” Cross said.

There are two models the association can follow to end up with affordable housing: a community land trust or a community housing development organization.

A community land trust owns land and sells homes on that land. The result are homes for the price of the structure minus the land costs. The land is contracted on a long-term lease to the homeowner. And the sale of the home from one individual to another reflected the structure’s appreciation.

A community housing development organization can function as a land trust, but has to be certified by the state. These organizations can apply for special state housing funds.

One third of a community housing development organization’s board must include low-income residents or elected representatives of a low-income neighborhood.

“If we do that, that means we have to have a completely different board,” Pellissier said.

Whatever model is adopted, WHATT will be a large piece of the puzzle by providing funding and planning for a for-profit development partner that would actually build the homes.

“We have to look at what will facilitate getting the most types of housing on the ground,” Pellissier said.

The association expects to have the business plan completed by September. After the plan is in place, WHATT will likely hire more staff to fit into its expanded role, Pellissier said.


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