The scarcity of affordable workforce housing in our community is at an absolute crisis point, and it’s one of our very top concerns.
History tells us the housing market moves in cycles, but in high demand areas like Tahoe we haven’t seen the declines many areas felt during the 2008 mortgage crisis. We can hope prices will normalize, but the possibility of an affordable home in the future is no consolation if you’re struggling with higher rents now, or if, like many, you can’t find a place to live at all.
As in many places across the nation, there simply aren’t enough homes for sale or rent in North Lake Tahoe for the number of people who want them, pushing home and rent prices to all-time highs.
Statewide housing production still hasn’t caught up with the need after the 2008 crash. Now builders are also challenged by pandemic-worsened labor and supply chain shortages. Those influences have combined for a historically unforgiving housing market. More than 40% of Placer households today are paying more for housing than they can afford. Specifically within our region, development restrictions also play a significant role, keeping housing supply lower than the demand. Between January 2020 and January 2022, home prices soared 135% in the North Tahoe/Truckee region, where the median sales price is now almost $1.1 million.
Home ownership remains the most reliable path to building financial security. We want a strong housing market. We want property values to grow. Yet when prices soar beyond the reach of so many, it doesn’t just hurt the people who can’t afford them; it hurts businesses that struggle to attract new employees. It hurts public agencies and districts that provide vital services. It even contributes to homelessness. And over time — when our doctors, nurses, teachers, peace officers, and firefighters can’t afford to live in the communities they serve; when our kids and grandkids are priced out of the communities where they grew up — it erodes the foundation of our communities.
Bringing relief is taking more time than we would like. It also requires collaboration between many groups, such as government at all levels, developers, neighbors, businesses, and community partners. While government typically doesn’t build housing, we do need to encourage policy change, programs, and opportunities for development of housing that’s affordable to our workforce in all income ranges, and we are doing just that.
In February, we were informed that Placer County is on track to become the first county in California to receive the state’s new pro-housing designation — a recognition of our efforts to reduce barriers to, and incentivize, affordable housing development, as well as harness market forces to produce a greater variety of housing types. Still, as our current plight so clearly shows, it’s not enough.
The housing market is driven by so many things that are out of our local control, and yet the need for sufficient, quality housing is fundamental to healthy communities. We need strong housing programs and dedicated workforce housing that provides basic protection and stability throughout housing cycles.
Since our Placer County Board of Supervisors approved the county’s first-ever housing work plan in 2017, we’ve helped affordable housing developers build 84 new workforce housing units in North Lake Tahoe, and 160 more are under construction now or in planning phases.
This includes Hopkins Village, a new for-sale development designed to allow local workers to purchase a home, build financial security, and grow roots in this community. It also includes the Dollar Creek Crossing project, expected to offer a range of for-rent and for-purchase homes and apartments across income ranges.
We’ve made it easier for homeowners to build accessory homes on their property for aging parents or recent grads, or to supplement income by renting to local workers. We’ve imposed a cap on vacation rental permits, strengthened requirements for developers to provide workforce housing, and created incentives for homeowners to rent exclusively to local workers.
Our new Workforce Housing Preservation Program is taking applications today, providing local workers with up to $150,000 in down payment assistance to ensure their home continues to house local workers.
Each of these promise real relief for members of our community, and taken together, represent Placer County’s largest-ever investment in housing infrastructure, supporting healthier communities for decades to come.
And yet I know these efforts don’t fully answer the need. There is much, much more to be done. A resort community as wonderful as ours will likely always face affordability challenges. But if we all work together, it is also possible to build the kind of community where hard work promises some assurance of opportunity and security, and it’s that community we are focused on helping realize.
More information on housing resources and opportunities for local workers in Placer County is available at placer.ca.gov/tahoehousing.
~ Placer County District 5 Supervisor and Board Chair Cindy Gustafson was appointed to the Board of Supervisors in 2019 and elected for her first full term in 2020. A 39-year resident of North Lake Tahoe, she previously served as general manager of the Tahoe City Public Utility District and CEO of the North Lake Tahoe Resort Association.