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Placer County is Taking Action On Workforce Housing

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The lack of workforce housing is a recognized and growing problem in Eastern Placer County, and fixing it is at the very top of Placer County’s priority list. So, I was disappointed to read Sierra Watch’s recent opinion piece, which contained not just many factual errors but worse, a mischaracterization of the problem, and a significant lack of understanding of what Placer County is doing about it.

Our challenges in a tourism-based economy are particularly acute — from the seasonality of variable staffing levels at local businesses to a significant growth in the online vacation rental market. Once a refuge for those driven out of Tahoe, rising home and rental prices in the Reno area now limit commuting options. A dizzying spiral of home prices in the Bay Area makes our region more enticing for second homeowners, many of whose Tahoe homes sit empty or barely occupied by family members.

The causes of the problem are many and nuanced, and so must be our solutions. I can assure you that, working with public and private partners, we are pursuing those solutions across the board.

Number one, absolutely, is building more types of workforce housing to provide for all kinds of workers. But we can’t do it alone. Building workforce housing is typically a partnership between a local agency and a developer. That partnership takes many forms, including land acquisition, funding agreements, grant applications, and fee deferral programs, to name a few.

The county teamed up with an affordable housing provider a few years ago that resulted in the construction of 77 units of workforce housing in Kings Beach. Placer County maintains an affordable housing fund and we are actively looking for opportunities to invest in new housing options. We are also monitoring any obligations of long-ago approved projects to construct housing.

Working with our local partners on the Mountain Housing Council, we are nearly finished with a project to map all the public lands in the region that have potential to site workforce housing. We also continue to update our ordinances on secondary or in-law units to encourage construction of more of them. We are aggressively going after vacation rental providers to collect transient occupancy tax. We expect these actions will help tip the scales in favor of both the long-term rental units we so desperately need, and provide more money to allocate to projects like trails and transit that serve locals and visitors alike.

I understand the temptation to blame recently approved projects for contributing to the problem. I am not here to defend those projects. I voted against approving the Martis Valley West and Squaw Valley Village specific plan projects. However, the reality is that they were approved, and I still have faith in the public review and deliberative process that resulted in their approval. If they are here to stay, at least both projects will actually provide more workforce housing units than Placer County’s current housing policy requires, and at a faster pace. I am focused on not just making sure those obligations are carried through, but am also advocating for enhanced housing requirements like these going forward.

In August, the Placer County Board of Supervisors will weigh in on the county’s new comprehensive plan to address workforce and affordable housing. New funding streams for workforce housing and more changes to our in-law unit ordinances are both on the table, possibly even action on how to get cohousing and tiny homes built. As challenging as this is, I look forward to the opportunity to move beyond discussion and dissention, and instead work on collaborative solutions that benefit our entire community.

~ Jennifer Montgomery is Placer County’s supervisor for District 5 and 2017 board chairwoman, representing the communities of eastern Placer County from North Lake Tahoe to Auburn. She is a 30-year resident of Donner Summit.

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The Opinion Page is your place to spout off. This section contains letters to the editor and longer My Shot pieces. Also, the Spout features two bimonthly perspectives — In the Past, delving into Tahoe Truckee history, and In the Moment, an artistic musing of a moment today.

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March 14, 2019