As Tahoe delves into a rabid housing crisis, the real question is: What solutions can we tap into to solve this issue? There are myriad options being explored by the community at large. The Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation, which is spearheading a regional housing needs assessment, just wrapped up a series of housing forums aimed at tackling solutions to this multi-pronged topic.
“What strikes me is there is no single solution,” said Truckee Town Manager Tony Lashbrook. “We have to pursue them all.”
Indeed, there are several options to explore in solving the #TahoeHousingCrisis, including regulatory approaches, tapping into local and regional agencies, a plethora of funding strategies, alternative housing, and even how we as a community look at this issue. While the solutions may not be clear, it is imperative that we get creative to harbor viable, alternative solutions to tackle the housing behemoth. Sustainable solutions will require passionate and involved community members willing to try anything.
“The success of this issue is going to hinge on the community commitment to solving this issue,” said Aaron Nousaine, senior associate for BAE Urban Economics, which is working on the Truckee North Tahoe Regional Housing Study. “We need to build support around solutions.”
Sara Schrichte, project manager for the Truckee North Tahoe Regional Housing Study, echoed those sentiments, pointing to the difficulty of this discussion. With two counties, an incorporated town, several unincorporated areas, and 17 special districts all within the region trying to tackle this one issue, it is imperative everyone is on the same page.
“This is the hardest part for us,” Schrichte said of coming up with solutions. “We are a neutral conveyor. Along the way we have learned a lot, but we are not the experts. It is difficult and awkward to speak on behalf of the jurisdictions. We are a bit outside our comfort zone.”
Moonshine Ink has taken these conversations to outline possible solutions to this issue. However, these are not the only potential outcomes. While the solutions may not be clear, it is certain that it will take multiple pieces to solve this housing puzzle.
It really is the culture of a community that drives changes in affordable housing. Communities need to be willing to be flexible to change what is already in place and get behind new policies. Aspen has some of the most onerous development standards — including housing mitigation for new construction and deed restricted units — but the community has backed the regulations and is committed to fixing its own housing crisis, according to Aaron Nousaine, senior associate for BAE Urban Economics.
“It is about a commitment to what you are willing to do to make sure people have accessible and affordable housing,” Nousaine said.
To fix a complicated situation like housing takes fierce support from the community, and perhaps Tahoe/Truckee can take a page from Aspen’s own housing crisis. In the early 1980s, Aspen’s two housing authorities combined to form the Aspen/Pitkin County Housing Authority, with the goal of better coordinating affordable and workforce housing policies. What emerged was a successful housing authority and, from 2008 to 2012, Aspen’s average annual tax revenue for its housing program was $7 million. Although Aspen has some of the most expensive real estate in the nation, it also boasts having among the highest rates of homes that are occupied by local residents year-round, according to Aspen Journalism.
“It worked in Aspen because they had community support behind them,” said Sara Schrichte, project manager for the Truckee North Tahoe Regional Housing Study, which looked at comparable ski communities. “It wouldn’t have worked without the culture behind it. We are building up to that.”
In addition to year-round residents backing change, it is also incumbent upon developers to switch their focus from building market-rate single family homes to develop housing for the workforce. Lashbrook said it is up to jurisdictions to “provide incentives and build solutions.” Incentivizing developers to build tiny homes or focusing on density is a start.
Additionally, second homeowners need to be part of the solution and consider renting their vacant homes to the local workforce, since 65 percent of vacant houses are second homes. Sarina Kriston, who owns the Housing Connection, an online long-term rental listing site, tried getting her neighbors in Tahoma who are second home owners to rent to locals — without luck. The owners of the five homes she approached said they thought their homes would get damaged. This is where a change of mindset comes in. If everyone invested in the community could come together and shift their focus on the subject, then perhaps a cultural tidal wave can move the housing situation out of crisis and into a manageable solution.
“Well-planned affordable housing is a long-term investment and a key component of a healthy community,” according to a 2012 report, Ten Principles for Developing Affordable Housing, by the Washington, D.C.-based Urban Land Institute. “An inclusive, people-driven process will gain acceptance from the businesses, neighborhoods, and politicians affected by the project.” ~ KF
Beyond the Single Family Home
Seamus Gallagher, owner of Truckee-based Gallagher Construction, can be looked at as a role model in implementing solutions for the community’s housing crisis. He estimates that 25 percent of his 50 employees commute from Reno. Many of those employees were born and raised in Truckee, but have been forced out of Tahoe due to lack of housing. This story is one the Tahoe/Truckee region is becoming all too familiar with. Enter Gallagher’s solution.
The Town of Truckee is offering an incentive program in which new commercial real estate projects can increase their floor area ratio (FAR) by 40 percent if they add one or more residential units to their property. Gallagher jumped on it.
“The land wasn’t cheap,” Gallagher said of his parcel in The Pioneer Commerce Center, where his new office has recently opened. He explained that the foundation and roof eat up a majority of construction costs — walls, sheetrock, and paint are affordable. “We simply made our building taller, with two apartments on the same foundation and roof as the Gallagher Construction offices, a design showroom, and wood shop warehouse,” he said.
In other words, they are building up, rather than out, which prevents sprawl.The two apartments are both two-bedroom, two-bath residential units spanning 1,100 square feet, and are currently occupied by folks working for Gallagher Construction.
This isn’t the only local business making use of these incentives. “If you look around the Pioneer Commerce Center, almost all of the top floors have some sort of residential unit,” Gallagher said. The list includes Kelly Brothers Painting, Doctor’s Office for Pets, R1 Snow Removal, Cal-Nevada Towing, B&B Plumbing, and Western Nevada Supply.
For many Truckee/Tahoe residents, renting is becoming more and more of a headache, but, unfortunately, owning a home is becoming increasingly less viable for full-time Tahoe residents.
Jeff Stoike, an instructor at Lake Tahoe Water Ski School, bartender at The Auld Dubliner and Fat Cat Bar & Grill, and web developer with his wife Katie Day, who is the manager for Brockway Springs vacation rentals, moved to Tahoe eight years ago. They estimate to have paid more than $100,000 in rent over the course of their tenure. After eight years of rent check after rent check, they decided to start looking to own. But, like most Tahoe locals, were quickly discouraged to find the average price tag for a house falling somewhere around $500,000.
However, thanks to a grant set up by the state and Guild Mortgage, the couple closed on their 600 square foot, semi-tiny home, on Old County Road in Tahoe City in just 27 days in late April 2016. The online group Tiny House Community designates homes under 400 square feet as tiny, while homes between 400 and 1,000 square feet are considered small. Nonetheless, the average house size in 2013 was 2,598 square feet, according the U.S. Census Bureau.
“It has been inspiring,” Stoike said. “People I work with are becoming more positive about buying a house. It is becoming, once again, an option for them.”
Another solution brought up at the Truckee Housing Forum is to take a Habitat for Humanity approach to the issue and build affordable housing stock with the help of the community and the home’s future occupants. A project of this caliber would require huge community cooperation between land owners, local businesses, and residents. ~ AG
Rethinking Laws and Ordinances
Tahoe Vista resident Theresa May Duggan has owned several workforce housing units in Kings Beach for more than 30 years. Her four cabins were built in the 1950s for the Squaw Valley Olympics, and are now in dire need of replacement. The easy fix, she said, would be to sell the cottages to the highest bidder, who would likely tear them down and build two high-priced single-family homes in their place. But Duggan knows the importance of keeping housing for year-round locals, and has a dream of installing three or four tiny houses on the property.
However, current building codes and fee structures are cost prohibitive to fulfilling her vision, and she believes existing ordinances and zoning needs to change to encourage small redevelopers. She noted that she pays the same fees for sewer, water, and fire protection for her 350 square foot cottages as the owner of the 4,000 square foot four-bedroom lakefront house across the street. “We need to start looking at new tools to help the small developer do the right thing for our community,” Duggan said.
Aaron Nousaine, senior associate of BAE Urban Economics, which is working on the North Tahoe/Truckee Regional Housing Study, agreed that fees, ordinances, and regulations have indeed been a barrier to building affordable housing in the area. He said zoning, building codes, and site development requirements can all be looked at to streamline the development process. For example, the requirements for building second dwelling units vary greatly throughout the region. In the Tahoe Basin, any parcel that is zoned for single-family homes that is an acre or more can have a second dwelling unit, according to a Tahoe Regional Planning Agency ordinance. On properties under one acre, they are only allowed if the zoning permits for multi-family dwellings. However, individual jurisdictions can change their regional requirements through TRPA’s community plan process. Placer County is currently seeking a change to allow in-law units on properties that are less than an acre. The Town of Truckee allows second units, but homeowner associations can outlaw them, like Tahoe Donner, which includes more than 6,000 of Truckee’s current 13,000 housing units. Truckee Town Manager Tony Lashbrook said very few second dwelling units are built in Truckee, and that the town will look at possible incentives to encourage more secondary units.
Other solutions could include tiered impact fees for smaller projects, so owners like Duggan aren’t paying the same fees as her neighbor with the large house; putting deed restrictions on housing so the land remains workforce housing; and density bonuses, among others. But it will be up to the many agencies in the area to help with the regulatory piece of the puzzle. “You have to be flexible in your codes to allow diversity in housing types,” Duggan said. ~ KF
Tapping into Public Funding
According to Truckee’s 2015 Town Report, substantial backing is needed by state and federal agencies in order to meet local housing needs.
“We need to not only find, but attract those dollars,” said Stacy Caldwell, CEO of Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation, which is spearheading a regional housing study. “I think the Railyard is a good example of using public money to get something off the ground.”
The Truckee Railyard development is nearing the final stage of review, with a master plan featuring 77 affordable artist lofts, a six-screen movie theater, restaurants, shops, and even a grocery store. Developer Rick Holliday purchased the land from the Town of Truckee in 2004. His portfolio comprises mixed-use and environmentally-friendly projects all over Northern California, including the Warehouse Lofts, an abandoned factory turned artist enclave in Sacramento. The Railyard development required $16 million in funding, an endeavor that tapped into both public and private sources.
So far, the project has received $14 million, the majority of which has been bankrolled by public monies, including an $8 million grant from the California Strategic Growth Council, an initiative to utilize proceeds from the annual California Cap-and-Trade Auction. The artist lofts will be financed in part by the Low Income Housing Tax Credit, which will help provide affordable units to families earning 30 to 60 percent of the area median income.
The Railyard development looks promising, but it is the exception, not the rule, in Truckee development.
Several affordable housing projects have received town approval, but only one deed-restricted unit has been constructed since 2010. Gray’s Crossing, Northwest Townhomes, Old Greenwood–The Enclave, and the Coldstream development have all been given the green light to erect a combined total of 206 affordable units. None of these projects have broken ground, and, according to the town report, most are unlikely to, with expiring permits and bankruptcies marring their development.
New policies, outlined in Truckee’s 2014 to 2019 Housing Element, will revisit affordable housing in-lieu fees — which allow developers to pay a fine instead of building their inclusionary units — encourage second units, and modify density regulations to help streamline the development of the crucial affordable housing segment.
For many first-time home buyers, the Tahoe market can seem impossible to break into. Senior Mortgage Loan Officer Katie Rice of Guild Mortgage Company is doing her part in helping community members take matters into their own hands. In the past month, her team has closed on five homes with assistance from federal grants and down payment assistance programs.
“There was nobody else in our community doing this,” said Rice, who screens potential homebuyers to see what programs they might qualify for and that can satisfy their individual needs.
“It can make the difference,” she said. “Most millennials don’t have the money for a down payment.” ~ MH
Private Funding Opportunities
The private sector is a considerable force when looking at ways to affect change in the housing realm. Funding power from various private sources can be larger than the public coffers, and plays into housing scenarios around the nation. In the Bay Area — ground zero for real estate despair — the Silicon Valley Housing Trust, just one of many private housing trusts in the region, has invested more than $52 million in financing low-income housing, more than $47 million in down-payment assistance, and leveraged $1.8 billion.
The Martis Fund in Tahoe — a collaborative undertaking between nonprofits and developers — collects private transfer fees from the resale of homes in high-end developments such as Martis Camp, which are put toward grants. A main outlet for those grants is workforce housing, which provides unique challenges, as well as opportunities.
The fund donates to the Family Resource Center in Truckee to help low and very-low income families find housing. Additionally, in late 2015, they launched a down payment assistance program that has provided $700,000 in assistance for loans to 12 families in Martis Valley, which has allowed them to stay in the area.
Highlighting the complications of the workforce housing landscape, The Martis Fund also has a pending sale for a 42-acre parcel of land known as Hopkins Ranch to the Tahoe Expeditionary Academy (TEA). It was originally slated for workforce housing when it came under ownership of The Martis Fund, but due to the prohibitive infrastructure costs, the need to rezone the property, and other factors, the area saw a lack of interest by developers since it became available in 2006, which caused them to enter discussions with TEA about selling in 2015.
While that parcel is off the table for workforce housing, planners at the fund believe the sale will translate into better future housing opportunities than were possible with that site. As part of the sale, TEA has agreed to grant $200,000 per year in perpetuity for tuition support for local families. As for actual housing units, they are currently looking at future options with Placer County, and are exploring a possible brick and mortar location as an outlet for the funding.
“It came down to collective wisdom that the proceeds from the sale will go so much further for a to-be-determined program,” said Terry Watt, the grants fund administrator for The Martis Fund.
Another potential source of private funding is coming from Vail Resorts, which owns Kirkwood, Heavenly, and Northstar ski areas. In Dec. 2015, the corporation pledged $30 million to support company-wide housing efforts for their employees. Details have yet to be outlined for how much will be allocated into this community, or in what fashion, but Tahoe is certainly part of the plan.
“The funds are intended to be used in partnership with the local resort communities, cities, and counties, and with other businesses to bolster the discussion and help develop new affordable housing projects that can be made available to seasonal and year-round employees,” said Marcie Bradley, Northstar’s senior communications manager. “How the pie will be divided really requires us all, as a community, to roll up our sleeves and determine the greatest areas of need and what potential solutions could look like. ~ DZ
Tahoe Housing Advocate
The tale of Mammoth Lakes is one similar to many ski resort towns. Mammoth Mountain Ski Area was purchased by Intrawest Resorts Holdings in the early 1990s and, subsequently, the economy shifted to a much more upscale clientele. Along with this shift came a sharp increase in home prices, resulting in the workforce being priced out of the community. To combat the rising prices, the nonprofit Mammoth Lakes Housing Inc. formed in 2003. The group was heavily supported by the community, and although run privately, had the political backing of the Town of Mammoth Lakes.
Jennifer Halferty, executive director of Mammoth Lakes Housing, stressed how important it is for the nonprofit to be partnered with the town, because it creates stability and continuity of the programs the nonprofit administers. Halferty explained that Mammoth Lakes doesn’t have the capacity to administer the grant programs, like down payment assistance programs, and MLH needs the town to have consistent funding, to make the relationship symbiotic.
“Many of the grants are for three-year programs, and we are competing at a state level for them,” Halferty said. “We need to demonstrate that MLH has the capacity and longevity to see the programs all the way through, and the funding coming from the town helps cement that we are able.”
Similarly, in 2002, a group of concerned employers losing employees due to the cost of living in the Tahoe Truckee area, formed a new agency. The Workforce Housing Association of Tahoe Truckee (WHATT) aimed to be an advocacy, nonprofit group providing solutions for low-income housing in the area. Much like MLH, WHATT wanted to be a housing authority for the region, but was it not congruent like MLH. Reason being, unlike the incorporated town of Mammoth Lakes, WHATT needed to work with the Town of Truckee, as well as Nevada and Placer counties.
WHATT planned to expand to include property managers, development partners, and a community outreach coordinator. Despite pushing 14 projects into development stages, WHATT never became the more aggressive housing agency it strived to be, and instead folded in 2008 due to the economy upheaval. At the time, operational needs were not being met financially, which blocked efforts to become a Community Housing Development Organization, according to an April 2008 WHATT press release. Without status of a CHDO, WHATT’s development capacity was significantly diminished. As a nonprofit, WHATT had to close its doors when it came down to the bottom line — money to run the organization — which wasn’t there.
The Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation is currently facilitating tough conversations about the future of our community, and it seems clear that the need for a uniting nonprofit entity is in the works, similar to when WHATT was formed. The question being addressed is what a nonprofit authority would look like in Tahoe/Truckee, and how we can tap into what other towns have done, as well as what our own community has tried. Nonprofit entities are proven to be the missing link between government and ski town communities to effectively address low-income housing, but it is important to gauge what will be a lasting and stable entity in the community, so progress can be made, not stalled. ~ AS
OUT OF REACH
Where are they now?
In February, we kicked off our Housing Crisis series by profiling 20 people who each had unique stories related to the local housing situation — from living in cars, to dealing with no heat, or moving out of the area altogether, the profiles showed the harsh reality of “living the dream” in Tahoe/Truckee. We followed up with four of our subjects to see where they are now, just a few months later.
A week after Moonshine Ink hit stands telling Jillian Culver’s story of living in substandard housing in Squaw Valley, the house she was in sold, and she was informed she would have to move out by March 31 — a month sooner than her lease agreement ended. She took to craigslist to find a home, but having a dog proved to be a hindrance. Culver, 26, was about to rent a storage unit and couch surf when she received a text from a Coffeebar co-worker that someone in Soda Springs needed a roommate immediately. “It was just magic,” Culver said, noting that she contacted the girl, looked at the room, and put a deposit down all in the same day. While she is grateful that the heat works and the place is clean, there is one catch — the house is for sale. ~ KF
Dominic Hughes, 25, is now 3,000 miles away, back in his home town of Dade City, Fla., after just over four months of living in Truckee. While he was blessed to have been given a temporary room with a kind older couple, Hughes had to make a tough decision based on what he ultimately needed at the time. “Even though everyone I met in Truckee was incredibly nice, and even though I come from a small town, Truckee is severely lacking in ethnic diversity, sexual orientation, and the kind of opportunities that would have made it worth for me staying longer,” he said. “For a town as expensive as San Francisco, I couldn’t justify trying to pay rent there when I was only earning $10/hr.” ~ JJ
At last glance, Christian Bennett had settled into a small cabin on Donner Lake after bouncing around Tahoe/Truckee for years. Four months later, he’d had enough with paying “a lot for a little” and moved to Reno. Bennett, 31, is very happy with his new digs, and has a garage with twice as much square footage as his Tahoe home — no joke — for less money, but admitted it was a really difficult decision to make. “Until we solve the housing crisis, there’s no place in Tahoe for me,” said Bennett, who works at Clear Capital, and was able to transition into their Reno office. He hasn’t given up on the housing problem, though, and won’t anytime soon. He remains on the housing committee in Truckee. “Housing is my first and foremost priority,” he said. ~ DZ
Miranda McFarland’s bus “Juanita” has moved — one-quarter of a mile up Tahoe Boulevard in Incline Village. The Sierra Nevada College junior submitted a formal proposal to Dean of Students Will Hoida earlier this spring, hoping for permission to use her bus as a living space, but crickets have been chirping ever since. McFarland isn’t giving up hope yet. This summer, she plans to rework her proposal, which includes a liability waiver and weather-safe inspections for students sleeping in their vehicles, and resubmit a fresh version in the fall. ~ MH