The ironies of wealth and want | SierraSun.com

The ironies of wealth and want

David Bunker

Certain ironies exist in the Tahoe-Truckee area that, no matter how long I live here, never seem to lose their edge.

Housing, which is often a portrait of ironic extremes, is the one that continues to blow my mind.

The most opulent homes in the area are, almost by rule, uninhabited the vast majority of the year. Take Lahontan, Tahoe Donner and Old Greenwood, and the unoccupancy rates regularly range somewhere between 70 and 90 percent.

Contrast that with the aluminum trailers, ramshackle apartments and hotel rooms that house a sizable portion of Tahoe-Truckee’s full-time population, and you have a recipe for the problems illustrated in Andrew Cristancho’s piece in today’s paper entitled “Thieves may know when you are away.”

The inequity is no excuse for the law-breaking burglaries and thefts reported in the article. But the deep division in our community spawns a variety of other issues that, at times, make Tahoe-Truckee look like two separate communities.

The situation brought to mind a story I heard several years ago about maids cleaning homes in Tahoe Donner, who took advantage of the vacant, multi-thousand-square-foot homes they were cleaning as a place to live.

As I remember, the maids lived neatly in the homes without vandalizing, burglarizing or otherwise disturbing the residences.

Once they were found out they were fired and punished in some manner, as I recollect.

Without getting into the right and wrong of the situation, I remember thinking “only in Truckee” when I heard the story.

The anecdote somehow captured the odd imbalance of enormous homes sitting unused, while Truckee’s working class struggles to find even the most cramped or inadequate place to call home.

Over my few years as a journalist I’ve had the pleasure of being invited into the cramped one-room trailers that house an entire family, or the deteriorating motel rooms were ski workers wait out the winter between their gigs on the slopes.

Each time, I’ve felt a twinge of anger at the injustice of a hard-working family’s predicament, even as I am amazed at the joy and generosity often found in such homes.

The struggles of making ends meet stretches to even the “middle class” in town, who often barely afford the basic essentials of life in Truckee-Tahoe.

Fortunately, an upbeat side to this serious issue exists, one that gives me reason to feel hopeful.

The other day, the ran a short article on the Tahoe Donner residents forming the “Tahoe Donner Charitable Fund.” Bruce Douglas, president of the Tahoe Donner Association, said “I don’t know why we didn’t do this sooner.”

And even Lahontan ” as much as some locals love to vilify the residents of that exclusive, gated subdivision ” has made enormous contributions to the well-being of the community with generous donations from the Lahontan Community Foundation.

To me, those are examples of a community that cares.

Countless other groups also have met the problem head-on ” one of the most important, and successful, being the Workforce Housing Association of Truckee Tahoe.

These groups and, I believe, an increasing number of residents in the area look at our community as a whole ” where the well-being of each resident matters if we are to claim success for being a great community.

So this year I’m thankful to live in a place where many of the most well-off have the heart to contribute to the good of the less fortunate in our community.

But I realize that not enough has changed, and more hard work is needed, when much of the local backbone of our community still lives in want among abundant wealth.