When the long-awaited Truckee Artist Lofts opened its doors last summer on the eastern end of Donner Pass Road — amid a regional housing crisis where the median home price is $1.2 million — it appeared an affordable living option geared toward local artists was finally online.
“I really believe in the people here,” said Patricia Eagan, an area resident since 2018 who moved into TAL on July 2, 2021, speaking about the apartment complex. “We’re a little slice of the United States. I don’t see Black people unless I’m at Truckee Artist Lofts, I don’t see as many kids of color unless I’m at the Truckee Artist Lofts. I feel like this is a really wonderful opportunity for Truckee to reverse the ‘Truckee method’ as it was called back in the 19th, 20th centuries, and really welcome people who are, like me, working their tails off to support the economy here.”
But a year in, there are growing concerns by TAL residents, management, and the community at large over personal safety, repeated construction mishaps, and not enough locals being housed by a complex meant for them. While frustrations abound, there is hope that kinks will work out and TAL can become a thriving and affordable artist community.
“This is a project that’s so near and dear to all of our hearts and we’re devastated it’s been so rocky,” said James Kinloch, regional manager for CFY Development, which both developed and now manages the units. “But the rockiness has been primarily because of the pandemic … staffing shortages, labor shortages, delays in construction, supply delays, and then the change in the demographic where [Tahoe/Truckee residents can’t] qualify and income is rising … We’re doing everything we can.”
Qualifying to live at TAL comes with several hoops to jump through: Income levels, artistic abilities, and locality each play a role in where a prospective tenant might fall on the waitlist. The lattermost preference rewards community members who are already part of the local Truckee workforce — significant as the region seeks to slow the shedding of employees due to high housing prices.
Yet the specific requirements of income versus what’s available at TAL is making it difficult to house those who already live in Truckee.
Most of the 77 units are designated for those making 50% or less of the Area Median Income. This year, 50% AMI is $34,450 annually for one person in Nevada County. (Any household making less than 30% or more than 80% AMI does not qualify to live at TAL.)
“It caters mostly to the middle income because the hope was that we were going to be able to house the local workforce, which throughout the state, 50% [AMI] is usually the local workforce,” Kinloch said. “… The problem is that the workforce in the Town of Truckee makes far too much. Here in Sacramento, McDonald’s pays $16.17, but [in Truckee] it’s $20.21. The difference in income even at McDonald’s means that those McDonald’s workers on Donner Pass Road make too much.”
Countywide numbers differ from up here on the hill. For example, per the U.S. census, Nevada County’s average income in 2020 was $68,333 while Truckee’s was $98,587. (Note average is a different metric than median.)
Kinloch added that the majority of those on the TAL waitlist (about 130 applications long) are locals, but they fall into the 60% to 80% AMI range. “We only have eight of those units, period,” he said. For the locals who did qualify for 50% AMI and under, he added that many people didn’t reply to their application’s acceptance, or they didn’t have the right household size for the units due to occupancy limits.
As part of its vision, TAL has a preference for its residents to be artists, or persons who promote or create “visual art, literary art, new media art, or performing art, using imagination, skill, or talent to create works of aesthetic value,” according to the application overview.
This preference system moves those who qualify higher up on the waitlist, but legally cannot deny non-locals and non-artists from applying to live at the apartments. Fair housing laws disallow housing developments to restrict properties to residents from a certain area. “You can have preference points and you can do first come, first served as far as getting all your documentation in, but you can’t say ‘only Truckee locals come over,’” explained Jazmin Breaux, Nevada County’s Truckee/Tahoe Health and Human Services program manager.
As of publication, 59 of the currently occupied units — or 80% — are home to tenants who lived in the area prior to move-in. There are three vacant units available. Per Kinloch, of the 58 tax credit units, only two or three are not artists, while in the 19 Project-Based Voucher program units (restricted to those making between 30% and 50% AMI), only one household qualifies as an artist.
Prospective TAL residents who make between 30% to 50% AMI can apply through the Regional Housing Authority in addition to applying via the complex directly. TAL’s 19 Project-Based Voucher units, which are managed by the Regional Housing Authority, will remain for those with very low income in perpetuity and are the first of their kind in Truckee.
Despite rumors of a placement program that’s moving those who live outside of Truckee/North Tahoe into TAL, anyone who’s applied to live at TAL has done so of their own volition, Breaux said.
“Anyone, you or I in our housing search, can go to affordable housing complexes,” she explained. “… I want to get away from the [idea] that someone is placing people from out of the area and making decisions about moving people in. Because again, tenants fill out the application, they show up for the interview, they submit the documentation. And if they are eligible based off the guidelines, then they’re approved for a unit and they’re offered the opportunity to sign a lease and get keys and move in.”
Love Andreyev (she/they) has lived at TAL since September 2021. Originally from Sacramento, Andreyev spent time on the waitlist for the Warehouse Artist Lofts, a mixed-use community in downtown Sacramento for artists. Similar to its Truckee counterpart, Warehouse Artist Lofts was also developed by CFY and has rent- and income-restrictions for 86 of the 116 units. When Andreyev’s name came up for a unit on the waitlist, they didn’t income-qualify for the specific unit available.
Shortly after, Andreyev saw Warehouse Artist Lofts management share on social media that a similar development was being constructed in Truckee, encouraging people to spread the word and apply. Because she was seeking an artist community, and wanted to be close to nature, Andreyev applied, was accepted, and moved into a TAL studio.
“Nowhere necessarily was it indicated that it was just solely for Truckee,” Andreyev, a mixed media artist, recalled. “I think on the website, for example, it says housing for artists and local workforce. And the way that I interpreted that for me was, well, I’m an artist, and if I move here, I will be part of the local workforce.”
Andreyev says they haven’t felt very welcomed into the community because they don’t classify as a local the way the community expected them to. Andreyev has seen conversations on the social media platform Nextdoor circulating and has had their own conversations with people complaining about non-locals and transient individuals being housed at TAL.
“There’s a lot of negative connotations associated with this place,” said fellow TAL resident Eagan. “And part of it is wrapped up in all kinds of xenophobia, ableism, racism, and sexism. I feel like everybody deserves a place to live. I keep getting these texts of locals saying, ‘cool artists don’t live there,’ and ‘this is for locals.’ I’m a local. And how long does it take until you’re a local and you deserve housing?”
Both Eagan and Andreyev believe they and their fellow residents, regardless of background, have a right to feel safe and welcome in their apartments.
“Just because we’re living in a low-income environment, I don’t think that justifies the type of problems that we’re having,” echoed Tamara Greenwood, a born-and-raised Truckee-ite and musician.
Greenwood says she feels gypped by what was implied with TAL’s opening, that it would be a welcoming space for artists. Between Greenwood and her two children, they’ve witnessed people sleeping under stairwells, screaming outside in the middle of the night, and incidents of smeared blood or hammered holes left in public space walls. They also heard from neighbors about threats to blow up the building, and more.
The Truckee Police Department shared with Moonshine that between June 2021 and June 2022, there have been 127 calls for service from TAL. Deverie Acuff, public information officer for the police department, said the amount is comparable to other complexes in Truckee.
Kinloch oversees Robert Bartevian, property manager for TAL, who is the third to fill the position in a year. Several residents told Moonshine that the quick turnover has led to shaky management.
“I was super stoked to move in here because I am an artist,” Greenwood said. “So is my daughter; she does ceramics and painting. I started off pretty quickly hearing about leaks and stuff, but that wasn’t my big concern. What my concern is, is our safety. I don’t feel safe here and it’s gotten worse.”
Last week, Greenwood’s apartment began experiencing plumbing issues, including raw sewage coming up through the bathtub drain — something other TAL residents have experienced, as shown in the accompanying photos. Management provided her family with a key to an unused apartment, allowing them access to a bathroom and running water while they waited for a plumber.
“It has caused me and my family so much anxiety and stress to live in this environment,” Greenwood said.
Of some of the ongoing construction issues, CFY’s Kinloch says they’re a byproduct of the Factory OS modular units used to build TAL. He said the development company will never use modular units again.
“We’ve worked out a lot of the problems with the modular build,” he said of TAL. “We finally got the irrigation working and we’re getting the rooftop prepared for the winter. I’m 100% positive that if we give it more time, it will be exactly how we needed it to be.”
Eventual silver linings
Kinloch also works at the Warehouse Artist Lofts, which is known as a raving success in the Sacramento area. The first Friday of every month, the complex opens its doors for residents to show off their talents via art galleries, music on the roof, and dance performances in the studio. The neighborhood around the lofts has become an artist mecca. But to get there, Kinloch said, it took two years for the community to come together.
“I have high hopes,” he added. This Saturday, Aug. 20, TAL’s first resident function will take place, allowing tenants to mingle with one another and management.
Both Greenwood and Andreyev say that despite their anxieties about living at TAL, they’re still extremely grateful for the opportunity. “I haven’t had anything in me where my intuition is saying, give up on this place,” Andreyev said. “I have overall gratitude to be here.”
Eagan says the women at the complex are keeping an eye out for one another: “We have a strong cadre of women here … It takes a village and there’s no martyr and there’s no leader. There’s everyone picking up.”
Breaux with health and human services pointed to TAL as one of many affordable housing projects that need to happen in the Truckee/North Tahoe area.
“The housing inventory that’s needed to address our problem [is something in the neighborhood of] 1,000 units,” she said. “Coldstream [Commons, a 48-unit affordable housing project in Truckee] and artist lofts collectively are 125 units. In the grand scheme of things, we’re still struggling to house our locals because we only have a small number of housing that’s been built when we really need a much larger solution. Just recognizing that these aren’t the only solution to our housing problem; it’s one step and it’s created lifesaving opportunities for some of our long-term locals.”