By STACY CALDWELL
At a recent Placer County Board of Supervisors meeting, after delivering a presentation on housing, I sat down and listened to a parade of speakers tell their own stories of the housing crisis.
Sean Barclay, general manager of the Tahoe City Public Utility District got up and talked about not being able to live in the community he serves.
“We got tired of chasing rentals, and moved to Reno,” said Barclay.
JT Chevalier, executive director of the Tahoe City Downtown Association, wondered how long he’d be able to survive in the area.
“I am a 31-year-old and I want to own a house here,” said Chevalier. But after years of seeing skyrocketing prices and shrinking housing options, he said, “Honestly, it is a pretty bleak future.”
And then there was Alex Mourelatos of Mourelatos Lakeshore Resort challenging the audience and county supervisors to look around at the young professionals in the room, and to “be prepared to say goodbye to them in four years” because they “won’t be here because they can’t live here.”
I’ve been immersed in housing issues for the past two years. But that meeting hammered home what we all know — housing is everything. It is community. It is education. It is fire department response times and after-school programs. It is seeing a familiar face at a local concert and a friendly server at your favorite restaurant. Without housing our community crumbles.
In the room and behind the scenes are the partners and leaders of the Mountain Housing Council. Twenty-nine organizations — public agencies, home owners associations, and corporations — have banded together to accelerate “achievable local housing” solutions. They have committed their top leadership ranks to the group and are dedicating resources to consider policy, land, and funding toward potential solutions. Together, we are collaborating, facilitating, and engaging each other and the community. We’ve crisscrossed the community giving presentations, advocating for funding, and developing solutions and strategy. At times, we are overwhelmed by the scale of the problem, but more often we are inspired by the community support.
In our first year, we celebrate real results. Together we have helped a handful of developments move forward by working together, thinking creatively, advocating for funding, and educating our community. With 342 new units moving forward and more than $40 million in financial capital attracted to support those efforts, we are on our way. Yet, still more is needed, and it is never fast enough.
To further accelerate and scale more solutions, it will come from all of us. It will come from our continued collaborative efforts to break down jurisdictional and institutional silos. Solutions will come as government officials seek grants, streamline fees, and purchase property. They will come as community members support local housing projects. They will come as homeowners rent out rooms and build secondary units, employers create housing for workers, and developers find more innovative ways to bring down costs. Ultimately, solutions will come from a shift in thinking about our future together. Are we willing to manifest a future as a regional community that can support the next generation of service workers, civic leaders, and young professionals?
Over the next few years, we will see housing projects come forward, secondary unit policies revised, and community members and employers step up with rentals. Each small achievement will be one more step toward a stronger community. Along the way, we’ll have to accept some change. Perhaps we’ll come to view some of our housing stock more like infrastructure than a commodity — as vital to our economy and community as roads, schools, and water lines.
As community members, we need you to be aware. Understand the unique dynamics of our regional housing crisis. Talk about it, ask questions, and show your support for achievable local housing. Look at the list of agencies that are involved in the Mountain Housing Council. Each one of them has a board that voted to participate. Support that leadership. Show them that you support their involvement and help nurture our collective success.
In the same comments where Chevalier talked out the “bleak future” of the housing situation, he also signaled hope.
“Knowing there is a bright light to focus on makes us feel better about our future in this area,” said Chevalier.
We’ll solve this daunting challenge together. It’s the only way we will achieve success. There is hope. And the more who join and work toward solutions, the more progress we’ll make.
Let’s fix housing together. Our community and our future depends on it.
~ Stacy Caldwell is the CEO of the Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation, which leads the Mountain Housing Council effort. Learn more at mountainhousingcouncil.org.