Affordable housing, topic of forum |

Affordable housing, topic of forum

GUEST COLUMN Barbara Green, Nevada County Supervisor

Can we “afford” to think outside the box?

How can Nevada County cooperate further with Truckee to achieve more housing units affordable to our entire workforce? I invite you to attend a town hall meeting on Thursday, April 24 at 6p.m. at town hall to gather thoughts from our community. County Housing Director Jim Carney and Truckee Community Development Director Tony Lashbrook will also attend and we welcome your questions and ideas.

The proposed federal and state spending cuts will be drastic and the effect will last for several years. The cuts will force us toward a new way of thinking. We will have to act as a community in ways that we haven’t imagined. This will give us opportunities to find creative ways to serve the needs of our neighbors.

Truckee’s housing costs have far exceeded the means of the average working family and single people to buy or even rent a home. With the median income in Nevada County this year at $51,000, it is impossible for families to afford such housing.

It would take an annual household income of at least $120,000, or so, to afford a standard mortgage for an average-priced home in eastern Nevada County. Our workforce is being forced out of Truckee.

What can we, as a community, do to provide housing for our residents? We need to find housing situations for minimum wage workers, recreational seasonal workers, single parents with children, and senior citizens.

The county housing program, working in collaboration with Truckee, has brought almost $5 million of state and federal grants, loans and tax credits into our community to address housing and to support our local economy.

Our town/county team has found $1 million of federal HOME funds to help subsidize Sierra View.

Our staff has worked with Cascade Housing to secure low-income tax credits to build the successful Truckee Pines, which also provides on-site childcare and Head Start programs. Another $1.5 million has been secured to rehabilitate ownership and rental housing.

Did you know that the Sierra Tavern was rehabilitated with Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds? Additionally, the county has provided funds for first-time homebuyers, mortgage credit certificates, rental assistance vouchers, weatherization and energy assistance, and low-income help through several local non-profits such as Tahoe Women’s Services, Truckee Tahoe Seniors’ Council, TGIF Counseling Center, and Tahoe Forest Hospital.

The voters passed Proposition 46 in November. Nevada County was one of only two rural counties that voted for it; clearly, our voters know we need it. The measure allows the state to sell bonds to provide money to fund housing for working families, seniors, and homeless persons in our communities. How can eastern Nevada County utilize these funds?

With new construction and rehabilitation projects, the cost of fees to special districts is high. Can we explore opportunities to write down the cost of hook-up and impact fees for affordable housing units?

The land values in our area have made projects exceedingly expensive. Affordable housing land trusts are gaining favor in California. Is there the possibility of our forming one?

The state definition of a living unit is limited and could be broadened. Director Jim Carney and I are meeting with officials in Sacramento to explore this possibility.

There is growing interest in alternative housing such as groupings of small houses of around 600 square feet, auto courts, and intentional communities for groups such as retired people, students, and other groups.

I am having discussions with individuals about how the county can assist in other ways. We can apply for CDBGs to form public/private partnerships with homeowners who want to rehabilitate a home and divide it into several units.

Finally, here is another idea I would like to discuss: Many of the above solutions require new construction on vacant land, but we have an existing housing stock of already-built homes. Some of these homeowners may have a room or two that are not being used. And that amount of space is all that is required by some people looking for housing.

Nevada County has applied for CDBG money, part of which would go to setting up a shared housing plan. Several other counties in California have, for many years, had such a project in place. Jim Carney and I both participated in Project Match in Santa Clara County. It is a format for matching homeowners with an extra room, and people looking for one. The applicants are screened by an impartial third party. A homeowner who needs help with snow shoveling and/or help meeting increasing utility costs could be matched amicably with a younger seasonal worker. A parent or grandparent whose family is not nearby could be matched with a single mom or dad and child who would welcome some help. It’s a win/win possibility for a lot of people.

Please come and join us on April 24 and bring your out-of-the-box creativity.

Barbara Green is a Nevada County Supervisor, representing the 5th District, Truckee.

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