Working on worker housing | SierraSun.com

Working on worker housing

The concept is simple: Require new development to bear part of the responsibility of housing the workers it attracts.

The town is planning a employee housing ordinance and a requirement that new residential development include a percentage of affordable units as means to combat a growing divide between wage levels and housing prices in town.

But developers, real estate professionals, governmental officials and housing advocates that sit on a panel that is dissecting a possible ordinance, showed it is not as simple as it seems.

Will an aggressive employee housing ordinance hurt the town in its attempt to attract new businesses? Should new projects that provide high wages have to build employee housing? Should development have to provide year-round housing for seasonal employees? How big does a project have to be before it becomes subject to the ordinance?

These questions must be answered to make the ordinance equitable, enforceable and practical, according to town officials and members of the employee housing committee.

The town is focused on ordinances to expand affordable housing because of the growing disconnect between the wages of average jobs in town and the price of housing, said Tony Lashbrook, the town’s community development director.

A report on affordable housing in town released in late 2003 showed that a family of four with a moderate income could afford a $234,692 house. The median price of a house in the immediate Truckee area rose to $539,900 last year.

Similarly, rents are climbing out of the reach of many low wage earners and the inventory in town is limited.

The 2003 affordable housing and seasonal worker studies laid the groundwork for the ordinances now under consideration, which will attempt to solve the problem quantified by the two reports.

“The reason that we are doing this is the problem has been defined as being so serious that we have to use all measures to deal with part of it,” Lashbrook said of previous direction from the town council and the community.

The employee housing group backed keeping Truckee’s ordinance similar to Placer County’s employee housing ordinance, which is currently an unadopted draft.

“Keeping it consistent with Placer County makes a lot of sense,” said Rick Holliday, whose company ” Holliday Development ” recently purchased the Railyard property in town. “Having [an ordinance] that is wildly different might create a problem.”

At the same time, the group showed interest in exploring other options to tackle the employee housing situation. A regional housing authority that could use affordable housing funds to build homes in the region, was mentioned by Mayor Craig Threshie. Bob Johnston, who was recently appointed to the town’s planning commission, mentioned that the town could institute a payroll tax to fund affordable housing.

Lashbrook said that all ideas are welcome because the affordable housing dilemma is large enough that one tool will not be able to fix the problem.

“I think that what [the data] show is even using all the tools in the toolbox we are still working backwards,” said Lashbrook.