By SEAN WILEY | Moonshine Ink

The Tahoe City Dollar Creek Crossing Project presents a significant opportunity which the Tahoe City community can’t afford to bungle. We absolutely need to increase both the quantity and quality of our long-term housing inventory and learn from our neighbors’ mistakes and successes. The county has already invested in the property. As a community, we must ensure this investment serves our needs.

If we want our hometown to stay the best place to live, work, and play, then we need to enable growing families to thrive. Long-term rental inventory is in such short supply that it is having a negative impact in every corner of the community. Without long-term housing available, keeping a good employee becomes more dependent on that employee’s landlord than anything. Many local businesses have found there are few choices: Either close up shop, move a successful business elsewhere with employees, or invest in employee housing. Relying on an employer for housing is not conducive to establishing a long-term presence or starting a family. The largest employers in eastern Placer County have been “solving” this problem by hiring an increasing percentage of foreign workers each year to fulfill their human resource needs. There is also a rise in commuter employees, many living out of state. Needless to say, other small businesses that depend on local patrons are feeling the effects, particularly in the off-seasons.

The long-term housing inventory we do have is both poor quality and unaffordable, especially in areas further affected by TRPA regulations. The majority of housing stock was constructed before 1978. Despite being dated, often with serious deferred maintenance issues, residents are overpaying just to secure housing. If we do not make some progress in offering more modern options which remain affordable, we will continue to lose full-time resident population. By reducing the number of long-distance commuters, we can alleviate some traffic and retain the income associated with residents. We have the opportunity to see the consequences from a few nearby projects — Placer County low income housing and Truckee’s Coburn Crossing — and we need to learn from them. What I hear as main points of contention in these projects include that qualifying for low income housing is difficult and may promote career stagnation; additionally, housing restricted to local employees doesn’t help much if it’s unattainable or not sustainable because of cost. We are also able to see what works, like Sawmill Heights Apartments at Northstar. Not without some issues — such as adequate parking — this development provides many local employees a sustainable long-term solution. Other high-density apartments in the immediate vicinity of the proposal offer a glimpse of what could be achieved. Backing the proposed property on Village Road, dozens of successful apartments which are actively leased to long-term residents already exist and are thriving as part of the Highlands, arguably one of the most sought-after neighborhoods in the area for full-time residency.

Adding to the long-term rental inventory, especially inventory restricted to full-time occupants working in the area, is the best solution available to us at this time. If we can be smart about income level restrictions to be sure they encourage success, address parking, and ensure affordability, we may be able to considerably increase the efficiency of so many lives, enable businesses and families to thrive, all while setting a new standard for achievable housing.

P.S. The county finally approved plans for a new justice center at Burton Creek. Let’s make Dollar Creek Crossing happen sooner than later so we can be done with construction.

~ Sean Michael Wiley was born in 1988 at Tahoe Forest Hospital. Now he keeps birds and loves to ski Homewood and Alpine. He currently runs a boutique vacation rental business in Tahoe City, but has likely served you a smoothie, coffee, or breakfast over the years at various local businesses.