Don’t Blame the Visitor for Structural Problems

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By Brett Williams

Since Covid-19, there have been serious outcries by some members of the community blaming the visitor for trash issues and a lack of employee housing. These are obviously high-priority issues, but are we looking at them through the right lens?

Trash

For example, Tahoe Truckee Disposal currently (and in the past) does not pick up the trash on Saturdays or Sundays at the beaches, commercial cores, trailheads, and other highly used areas. The most amount of trash is produced on weekends! So, this is a visitor issue because we don’t pick up the trash when it’s most needed?

In eastern Placer County, primary residents and second homeowners (the ones who do not vacation rent their homes) are not required to have a bear proof trash container. These two demographics account for roughly two-thirds of our total housing inventory. Short-term rentals are required to have bear-proof trash containers, but they only account for 13% of the inventory. Why would we require bear-proof trash containers for the 13% and not the 66%? Do bears, dogs, and other animals know the difference in which trash to get into? I’m not sure how this inconsistent policy is a visitor issue.

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Housing

There have been many opinions shared that STRs and the visitors that stay in them are the main reason why we have a housing shortage. Yet homeowners of STRs do not vacation rent their second home because it makes them more money. They vacation rent their second home because it still allows them to be able to use the property. Usage is the primary purpose of purchasing the property in the Tahoe/Truckee area in the first place. If the buyer wanted to buy a property that is an investment property, they would have bought in Sacramento or Reno where prices are lower and profitability is higher.

Supply of long-term rentals is at an all-time low, and the market still hasn’t opened up more stock. Why? Obviously, it would seem there is a huge opportunity to make money by long-term renting since supply is so low and demand is so high … but we still are not seeing this shift in a major way. Why? Because long-term leasing doesn’t allow the owner to use the property. It is not the money that is the motivator; it’s usage.

Up until the last couple of years, the Town of Truckee and Placer County’s primary community housing plan has focused on letting the individual owner address the issue. Remind me when the individual owner signed up to be the community housing solution? I thought that was part of economic development and in the purview of local governments. Increased visitation increases the income for most community members in the area, making housing actually more affordable since wages go up.

It is the second homeowner/buyer that is the displacement source for community housing; not the visitor. The Town of Truckee passed a 2% tax increase recently for overnight visitors, and nothing on the day visitor or second homeowner. Yet, the overnight visitor spends more than the day visitor in the area with minimal impacts to housing compared to the second homeowner/buyer. Why not try to generate funds from the true displacement source, the second homeowner/second homebuyer (potentially property tax assessments, etc.) to help community housing rather than increasing the tax on the overnight visitor who is actually helping the affordability?

Going Forward

You, or someone before you, fell in love with Tahoe/Truckee initially as a visitor and then moved here full time. In my case, it was my parents in 1978.

As a former visitor, ask yourself, “does your current attitude and behavior match how you want visitors to behave?” Are you exemplifying the same behavior as a current “local” that once was afforded you by the “locals” when you first arrived? Are you thinking about solutions or just complaining?

Let’s fix our own issues before trying to blame visitors on our inability to adapt, and quit pretending that we are far removed from being visitors ourselves.

~ Brett Williams is the proud father of two teenagers and a superhero dog, Broker/President of Agate Bay Realty, NLTRA Board Member, Mountain Housing Council Member, North Tahoe High School Graduate (1987 … Go Lakers!), SDSU Graduate (1993), and is happy to see live music back.

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