Out of Reach


The numbers are alarming. The average cost of living in the Tahoe region is 10 times higher than the national average. Approximately 45 percent pay 30 percent or more of their income on housing, which means many Tahoe households may have difficulties paying for groceries, clothing, transportation, and medical care. Eighteen percent of households in Tahoe are considered very low-income, while 42.4 percent of the workforce are in the low-paying food service, accommodation, recreation, and retail industries. Add in that 65 percent of the homes in North Tahoe and Truckee are usually vacant second homes, and you have a crisis on your hands. The numbers tell a story, but it is the year-round residents of North Tahoe and Truckee that paint the picture for how dire the local housing situation really is. The Moonshine Ink staff hit the streets gathering stories to kick off our Housing Crisis series. From living in cars, to dealing with no heat, and moving out of the area altogether, these 20 profiles show the stark reality and high cost of “living the dream” in Tahoe/Truckee.

Sources: Tahoe Prosperity Center, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, 2014 Tahoe Regional Housing Needs Program Report, North Tahoe Regional Workforce Housing Needs Assessment


When Amanda Calderon came to Truckee in 2013 on a J-1 work visa from Chile, she didn’t expect to fall in love. But, she met Mathieu Pergens at a party, they got married in July 2014, and then had a baby girl, Sylvia, exactly one year later. While Calderon, 27, loves Truckee and wants to stay here with her family, the housing situation has put her in a precarious place. First, she and her husband lived in an in-law studio with no bathroom until they found a 300-square-foot apartment for $800 a month on Moraine Rd. in Truckee a year ago. In November, a pipe burst and the apartment flooded, leaving the couple and their baby homeless. They rented an Airbnb apartment for $50 a night, thinking it would be temporary. Then, they lived in the Truckee Lodge for a couple weeks until Calderon and baby Sylvia moved in with Pergens’ mother in Humboldt County. Pergens, who works for Truckee Overhead Door, is staying in a room of their former landlord’s house. Calderon, a chef who cannot work due to her visa status, has been searching for an apartment or house for her family to live in so they can be reunited. “She is starting to crawl already and he’s missing it,” Calderon said. “If you’re not looking [for a house] every 5 to 15 minutes, you’re screwed, and I have a baby to take care of.” ~ KF

Porkchop is homeless. Or, maybe, “professional transient” is a more appropriate term, as most nights he finds a roof to sleep under. A real Kings Beach personality, Porkchop estimates he has lived, rented, crashed, slept — you name it — in more than 250 different places since he moved to Tahoe in 1991 from Manhattan. Home for Porkchop, 50, has been anything from park benches, to friends’ couches, to his own temporary place, to short-term housesitting gigs, to backyard sheds — he truly has seen it all. He keeps his belongings in a friend’s shed and carries just a small bag with the essentials. Porkchop and I sat down to talk housing at The Grid Bar & Grill, one of his favorite Kings Beach haunts, coincidently, just after he had visited the North Tahoe Family Resource Center in Kings Beach, to inquire about affordable housing options. He left with a sheet of paper outlining the affordable options in Kings Beach, arguably one of the cheaper places to live around the lake, where his best option — given there is even space available — would be a studio apartment costing him $625/month. That’s not necessarily an affordable option for a guy who recently went off welfare through the acquisition of a new job working as a caretaker in Carnelian Bay. Porkchop, who is also a diabetic, does not choose to be homeless; he simply cannot afford the high cost of rent in the Truckee/North Lake Tahoe region and this forces him to the streets. ~ AG

Alex Geritz & Phoenix Anthony had all of the right characteristics for a couple who should have been able to settle down in Tahoe. Geritz, 30, worked full time in forestry and natural resources, while Anthony, 27, worked full time between the Truckee River Watershed Council and Moody’s. Starting in fall 2015, the couple spent three long months getting rejected from every house they had applied to rent, even though they had excellent credit and a long rental history. “Everything that popped up was either too expensive, or it was a shack,” explained Geritz. “The houses we could afford ended up going to someone who was willing to outbid us.” Another factor was their golden retriever. “You’d think living in Tahoe people would be OK with dogs, but we got denied so many times we eventually made our golden a résumé of her own to show her positive references.” Frustrated by the “never ending story” of looking for a place, and a little bitter about all of the empty second homes, in December they moved to Portland, which they refer to as a “financial refuge.” Within four days of being in the city they had seven homes available to them, all of which were larger, newer, and less expensive than ones in Tahoe. ~ JJ

Arianti Rojas didn’t think finding housing for three months while she worked here on a J-1 work visa would be so difficult, but the 22-year-old Costa Rican searched abroad from June to November until she finally settled on a place recommended to her by a friend. The situation, however, is not ideal. Rojas lives in a two bedroom, two bathroom duplex in Tahoe Vista with nine other Costa Ricans on the bottom floor, while nine others live upstairs. The five men and five women — all strangers before they moved in together — have zero privacy, and they rotate taking showers and cooking. Rojas says she’s “lucky” because their place has bunk beds, and relayed stories of other J-1s who have to share beds, or even sleep on the floor. She said the housing situation works for her and those she lives with only because they all have the same cultural background and get along well. Rojas and each of her nine other roommates pay $375 a month, which includes utilities. However, it’s not the housing that has the Northstar employee bent out of shape — it’s transportation. “The bus system is so bad that it is impossible to get around. The buses are always late,” Rojas said. “It really is tricky to find housing that is near transportation. I wake up at 5 a.m. to be at work by 8 a.m.” ~ KF

Dominic Hughes represents the many people who move to Lake Tahoe on a whim, only to discover their ideal home in the mountains doesn’t exist. Since arriving in early January, Hughes, 25, has exhausted all avenues trying to find a room, including online resources and asking everyone he meets for leads. As an employee of Coffeebar in Truckee, he has been fortunate enough to stay upstairs in a makeshift studio provided by owner Greg Bucheister, who offers the space when employees need a crash pad or, in this case, a temporary home. “It’s incredibly difficult finding a room in my price range when I’m working a job that pays $9 an hour,” said Hughes, who is looking to pay $600 a month, but has seen nothing below $900. “Having just come from Hollywood, this place reminds me of the prices there, but even more expensive,” he said. Coming to Truckee by request of his friend and co-worker, Hank Yu, Hughes ultimately wanted some time to get his mind back on music, while also getting to experience life in the snow. “I don’t mind crashing on couches, but it has to be a good situation,” he said. “You might find a diamond in the rough, but you still need to have your dignity and pride when choosing your space.” ~ JJ

Lucy Greene has lived in Truckee for 20 years, 17 of those at the Truckee Donner Senior Apartments. She has three children, 12 grandchildren, 26 great-grandchildren, and 13 great-great-grandchildren, but lives only with her 10-year-old golden retriever. Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, but raised in San Francisco, Greene started her own family in the Bay Area but was forced out by the rising cost of living. The family made their way from Applegate to Colfax to Grass Valley and finally settled in Truckee. Greene cites the exorbitant cost of living as the reason for all the moves — she has been on disability since 1978. It was finally at the Truckee Donner Senior Apartments that Greene found solace from rising rents, after waiting on a 13-month waiting list — the wait to get into the apartments today is three years — Greene was granted a one-bedroom apartment. Her monthly costs have increased only $100 in her 17 years at the complex. A total of 64 people live in the Truckee Donner Senior Apartments, where residents are offered amenities such as bingo nights, daily lunch service, an on-staff nurse, a life alert necklace, a certified nutritionist, and buses to various outings. While Greene is in a good housing situation, her son is affected by the lack of affordable housing in the Truckee/North Lake Tahoe region. He lives in Reno and is forced to commute to the area every day because he cannot find an appropriate place to raise his family. ~ AG

Miranda McFarland has called her white, eight-seat bus home for almost seven months. “When I’m in my bus, it’s just me and my bus. I call her Juanita,” said McFarland, a 21-year-old art major at Sierra Nevada College. McFarland has long, curly brown hair and wears a bulky winter jacket. She totes her own clay coffee mug to the local café. She first spotted her current home via a Craigslist search in San Diego. “All last summer I saved up,” she said. “I was really looking into vans, but then this bus stuck out to me. I was like, ‘that’s the one!’” Prior to its purchase, she made her home in a Jeep Compass for an entire year, including the winter season of 2015. She parked and slept overnight in the Sierra Nevada College parking lot, and blended in. After she acquired Juanita, however, SNC’s administration took notice. During the fall semester of 2015, they added language to the student handbook that specifically forbids sleeping overnight in the campus parking lot. “I know my bus kind of sticks out like a sore thumb, but I just don’t want to be a problem,” McFarland said. “That’s why I’m trying to compromise and work through student affairs to figure something out, like signing a liability waver. Whatever I can, because this is the lifestyle I’ve chosen to live, and I love it. I’m not going to turn back.” ~ MH

Christian Bennett has been moving around the region’s communities at a dizzying pace for the past six years, and still hasn’t settled. He has lived everywhere — Alpine Meadows, Tahoe Vista, Tahoe City, Carnelian Bay, Reno, Squaw Valley, Glenshire, and other areas in Truckee, a total of 11 different places — before finding his current location, a 400-square-foot cabin on the West End of Donner Lake that he rents with his fiancée. He has even moved three times in one month. Landlord woes and overwhelming demand have defined Bennett’s struggle. “I was in a place in Truckee where I wanted to take over the lease, but then realized quickly the place had problems and I would lose deposit money, so I moved out,” Bennett said. When he moved to his cabin, he says the landlords started out ideal but then stopped doing repairs and upkeep when they went to a month-to-month lease after a year. “Now we just want to make sure we have a good recommendation when we move. We have pretty much said that the landlords have won,” he said. Bennett, 31, would like to buy a house in Tahoe, but finds himself with incredibly tight competition. He is aiming for something in the $300,000 range, but has found that the few properties that are available in that price range are swooped up by investors that pay cash. Affordable housing projects wouldn’t apply to him, so the search continues. “I make too much money for the classification of affordable housing,” he said, “but not enough to be able to afford a house.” ~ DZ

“They told me when I moved in that the heat didn’t work,” is how Jillian Culver begins her housing story. “The house was for sale and we could be kicked out anytime. I had been homeless for 10 days and it was the summer. I have a dog and it was dog-friendly, and the rent was affordable — only $500 — and that was all that mattered to me. I was also told there was a black mold issue.” That was a year-and-a-half ago, and Culver now sees the reality of substandard housing. She said the landlord has tried to have the heater fixed off and on, but that it always works for a couple of days then breaks again. So, Culver, 26, and her roommate rely on space heaters to heat their old duplex in Squaw Valley. But the electric bill is $400 a month and all the windows still have black mold on them. While they have tried scraping off, it still keeps coming back. “And our rent just went up $200 despite the issues,” Culver said. “We’re just over it.” Culver, who works at Coffeebar in Truckee, will move out when the lease is up this spring, and she plans on looking for a place to rent closer to work, but she can’t afford anything more than $600/month. “What’s kept me there is it is an affordable house in Squaw,” she said. “But the landlord doesn’t necessarily have to fix these things to get the rent paid.” ~ KF

“Make yourself at home, enjoy a cup of tea on the deck, or relax on the couch with a book in the living room.” Samantha Bankston’s Airbnb profile paints a picture of comfort — a night in her home and immersion in the Tahoe lifestyle for $89 a night. Cheaper than many hotel rooms, Bankston’s listing not only offers overflowing bookshelves and a tasteful music selection to the renter, it is also the only way she can make rent while living paycheck to paycheck. When Bankston, 37, was staying in her cozy Dollar Hill apartment with her partner about a year ago, the income from Airbnb was carefully stowed away in a savings account, but after her partner moved out she started to fall short on the monthly bill. “Even on an associate professor’s salary, I find it incredibly difficult to find anything even remotely affordable in Tahoe,” said Bankston, who teaches at Sierra Nevada College. “I think that in Tahoe the housing is for the rich, despite the actual condition of the houses themselves; many of them are run down and it seems like the whole Basin was designed in the ‘70s.” It took Bankston almost three months to find her apartment, and it has required some ingenuity to keep it. She says her love of Tahoe and the joy of teaching on its shores drive her to find any way to stay. ~ SS

On a steep hill behind Ace Hardware in Truckee, seven young professionals have created a cost-effective, community-oriented living space in a large house originally designed as a single-family home. “This house has really changed how we’re able to live, and what we’re able to do in town. I was able to start a business here because of the amount of space we have,” says Maggie Hargrave, a family advocate at the Truckee Family Resource Center. Hargrave shares the six-bedroom home with several other young Tahoe-ites working through the first decade of their professional careers. “When you think about what it takes to have a house with seven people, it’s not just the number of bedrooms,” said Collin McCarthy, a 29-year-old software developer who lives in the shared space. On the household wish list: an industrial grade dishwasher. It takes a communal effort to figure out how to live with each other, said McCarthy, and a more methodical approach to problem solving. “Together, you have to identify the habits that are creating issues and try to solve them,” he said. “I think we need a diversity of the types of housing. I think sharing resources and sharing space is a great way to live. I think it would be better if more people did that, but I also don’t think that this is a perfect fit for all people and all families. I think we should approach the issue with a diversity of options. This is a great way to utilize the housing we do have.” ~ MH

Tim Sargent has lived in 12 places around North Tahoe/Truckee since moving to the area from Vermont in 2008. Early in December, he entered the pool of Squaw Valley/Alpine Meadows employees jockeying for the 46 beds in 13 units available for employees. After being waitlisted last year, Sargent said he was “very persistent” and now lives in the Courtside Apartments at Squaw Valley. The fact that he shares a room with bunk beds and has three other roommates doesn’t compete with the view of KT-22 he gets to look at while he drinks his morning cup o’ joe. It seems ideal for a seasonal worker, but many other people who have moved here for a season have not been so lucky. For Sargent, 27, renting in Tahoe has been a series of jumping in on people’s leases that have extra rooms or someone who dropped out. Therefore, he has no rental history and trying to rent a room now is nearly impossible. He wishes a landlord would overlook his non-existent rental history and allow him to rent so he can focus on bettering himself as an artist and athlete instead of stressing about where he will live next, a decision he will face again come April. ~ AS

Larissa Martinez, the woman behind the Truckee Love brand, came to Tahoe eight years ago and has made it work after a mix of unexpected change and good luck. Her marriage ended within a year of moving to Truckee from San Diego, and with a then 3-year-old to care for, her housing options became very limited. “I scored with getting a low-income spot. My rent is about a quarter of what other people pay in the area,” said Martinez, 37. She has lived at Frischman Hollow Apartments in Truckee since the separation, and is hugely thankful for landing the spot. She knows the wait list was and is long, that many other people are looking for the same, and that without it she simply couldn’t stay in the area. “Where are other people living that make less than me,” she wonders, adding that she has feelings of guilt knowing that affordable housing is in such high demand. In addition to Truckee Love, she works at Coffeebar and Truckee Tavern, and has two young boys. However, not everything is perfect. As the housing contract is under government rules, she has to have her home checked every quarter, to make sure she is following the regulations. Once, drunk neighbors broke in while she was home. Adding insult to injury, a police officer on the scene suggested that she consider moving to Reno, as the officer knew she was in a low-income housing unit, which she took as insulting. But no matter these hurdles, she feels lucky to be in Tahoe and able to afford rent. “I can’t complain,” she said. “I can see trees with snow on them when I wake up.” ~ DZ

It costs Lisa Bryant $450 a month in gas to commute from her home in Sparks, Nev., to her job as a project engineer at Linchpin Structural Engineering, Inc. in Truckee. Even given the high cost of gas and vehicle wear and tear, it is still more financially sustainable for Bryant to pay rent in Sparks and commute to Truckee five days a week. A lifetime resident of the greater Reno area, Bryant is a recent graduate of the University of Nevada, Reno. Upon graduating and accepting a full-time job at Linchpin, Bryant, 22, planned to finish out her current lease in Reno, of which she had three months left, and then begin looking for housing closer to work. After two months of serious apartment hunting, it became clear that living in Truckee was not going to satisfy her desired quality of living and fit into her $800/month housing budget. And, thus, Bryant moved into her boyfriend’s home in Sparks. Now, for $800/month total ($400 each), Bryant lives in a duplex that has a huge living room, full master suite, and updated appliances. Had she moved to Truckee, Bryant explained, she was looking at out-of-date studio apartments costing $1,000/month, plus utilities, and that the landlord, while extremely nice, refused to consider renting at a lower price. ~ AG

Sean and Tara Flanagan’s new home is the complete package: bay windows, hardwood floors, and a cozy loft complete with Swiss Family Robinson-style skylights. What sets this Tahoe abode apart is its 140-square-foot size and ability to be moved behind any truck with a decent tow capacity. The Flanagans have a tiny home, and have spent most of the fall shedding unnecessary belongings, accustoming themselves to living tiny, wading through local red tape, and even appearing on season one, episode two of HGTV’s new series Tiny Luxury. Tiny homes are a quickly emerging trend in many parts of the country and can offer an ideal solution to many social and environmental problems, but according to Sean, 36, and Tara, 34, local legislation makes it incredibly difficult to find a place to park it. Because tiny homes are still classified as camping vehicles in Nevada and Placer counties, they were technically only allowed to stay in one place for a maximum of 14 days. A series of similar regulations continued to inhibit the Flanagans’ search for a landing zone until they finally found sanctuary at Truckee River RV Park, where they plan to live tiny and continue their mission to make it easier for other people to follow in their footsteps. “I think that’s a really strong first step, to get it approved for a community where a lot of people could benefit from this,” Tara said. ~ SS

When Emily Turner talks about her housing history in Tahoe, she can’t highlight enough “how lucky” she has been. Turner, 34, has lived in Tahoe for 13 years and in only three places, including the house she owns now with her husband, Jesse. She said moving to Tahoe was straightforward; she moved into a classic “ski bum” house in Squaw Valley with seven other people. Later, she and Jesse moved into a mother-in-law garage apartment in Squaw, and aside from the fact that she has no idea how they managed to fit all their bikes, skis, and gear into the tiny apartment, Turner remembers it as perfect. After “not really looking,” she saw a real estate sign on the Truckee River. The 100-year-old house that sits hidden on the opposite side of Hwy. 89 was exactly what she and Jesse wanted. They bought the simple, historic old house, cleaned it like mad, and have made it their home. Although secluded, they do have running water, electricity, and, surprisingly, great cell phone service. Turner says she always wanted to make Tahoe home, but knew it came with sacrifices. She thought the perfect house was never going to be an option in Tahoe because of the lack of options. She sees these different sacrifices we make to live in such a beautiful place as big issues for young people trying to make it work in Tahoe. As she watches many of her friends forced to move away because of housing, jobs, or other challenges, she hopes the community can be proactive in not only attracting folks to live here, but helping them stay. ~ AS

David Kelly has committed himself to building affordable housing for the disabled in South Lake Tahoe. The 73-year-old has facilitated the development of three housing units in South Lake: the Tahoe Senior Plaza, for low-income seniors; affordable housing community Kelly Ridge, which is named after Kelly himself; and Sky Forest Acres, which is an 18-unit apartment complex for people with disabilities. Kelly, who has lived in the same affordable housing apartment with his wife for 30 years just outside of South Lake, intimately understands the issue. He has been disabled for most of his life, and even fought a 14-month-long battle with bladder cancer. As a member of the Tahoe Area Coordinating Council for the Disabled, he helps other disabled persons find housing. “There is a dire need for very low income and affordable housing here in Lake Tahoe,” Kelly said. “All the way around.” ~ MH

For the past eight months, John Keast has been living out of his Suburban and couch surfing between four or five friends’ homes in Kings Beach. He can’t find a place to call his own. Keast, 25, moved out here from Michigan two years ago with a friend and they moved in together. But when Keast moved out, he didn’t think looking for a new place would be so difficult. He actively looked for the first three months on Craigslist and through realty companies — viewing places and putting in applications — but he never got a single call back. Keast, who is a bartender at Mellow Fellow in Kings Beach, said the lack of affordable places is what is keeping him without a home. And while he says living out of his car in the summer has its perks, it is really the “not being able to shower every day” factor that is the main issue. He even has a solar power shower he keeps with him, but it is useless in the winter as it freezes. Keast is still looking for an affordable option in Kings Beach, and hopes the rental market opens up soon. ~ KF

John Jewett, 34, lives with his wife, Meghan, in their home in Kings Beach. The Jewetts knew they wanted to settle down in Tahoe, but it took them eight years of renting before they bought a house because of the price of buying in the area and high interest rates. After watching the housing market, the Jewetts jumped at an opportunity to buy a home in 2012 when the price was “right,” or at least significantly lower than the prices in 2004. Buying a house in Tahoe was still a stretch even though Jewett and his wife have professional, stable careers in the area. Jewett sees the housing issues in the region as a ripple effect to everyone in the community. He said there is no “silver bullet” to fix the problem. Jewett believes the combination of looking at zoning ordinances in Placer County, creating funds such as the Martis Fund to help homeowners afford their down payment (usually 20 percent of the cost of a home must be put down), building better hotels to take pressure off the short-term rental market, and having a conversation about rental regulations are all solutions to the larger problem. ~ AS

In the summer of 2012, Krista Strecker was at her wit’s end. She was unhappy at her teaching job in Castroville and desperately wanted to teach at Truckee High School. A day before she was set to hike the John Muir Trail, a teaching job miraculously opened up. She applied, held off her hike, and waited weeks until she made it through the application process. She landed the job in the afternoon, got on Craigslist an hour later to find housing, made a phone call to the landlords, and sent the deposit in later that day. The next morning, she took off on the John Muir Trail for 26 days, came back, moved her belongings from Aptos ­— where her mom lives — to Truckee in one day, then began her new teaching job immedately. Strecker, 31, knows how lucky she was, and owes her gratitude to her landlords. While she pays $950/month to live in an apartment that she calls “a boat” because it is so small, Strecker says she stays because of the location on the West End of Donner Lake and her landlords. “I feel like I’m knocking it out of the park,” Strecker said. “If I didn’t have the landlords that I do, I couldn’t do it. They treat me like family.” ~ KF

Addressing the Problem

Housing Needs Assessment

While there is indeed a housing crisis in the region, various agencies and organizations are working together to address the problem by conducting the first study that will create a regional baseline of all North Tahoe/Truckee housing needs. The Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation, in collaboration with Placer and Nevada counties, the Town of Truckee, and the Workforce Housing Association of Truckee Tahoe, have come to the table with more than $170,000 to look for solutions that can address the specific needs of the region. The study will attempt to capture all aspects of housing issues in the North Lake Tahoe region. The Truckee North Tahoe Housing Study is in two parts: BAE Urban Economics is conducting a comprehensive Needs Assessment Study, while TTCF and the Community Collaborative of Tahoe Truckee will carry out a community engagement and storytelling plan with various partners in hopes of hearing the community members’ voices. A workforce housing needs assessment survey is currently being distributed regionally. For more information, see here and visit ttcf.net/impact/regional-housing-study.

Storytelling Solutions

Another component to the housing issue, is to tell the story of those coming up with creative solutions to fix it. Elevate Tahoe, which is a collaboration between Moonshine Ink, the Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation, and SBS Media House, is putting together a storytelling element to put a face to the region’s housing situation. This includes 10 two-minute video segments, which will highlight the issue. The Housing for the People project is currently in pre-production and is scheduled to be released in March. For more information, visit facebook.com/elevatetahoe.


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