With the median price of single-family homes above $1 million, purchasing a home in Tahoe or Truckee is unattainable for most of the local workforce.
“There’s a gap between traditional affordable housing programs and available housing in the Tahoe/Truckee region. Ultimately many of our workers are moving away leaving employers unable to staff businesses and impacting our region’s economy, culture, and vitality,” said Kristina Kind, a coordinator for the Mountain Housing Council during a November meeting. “This group includes teachers, firefighters, business owners, and many, many others.”
The Truckee Home Access Program and the Placer County Workforce Housing Preservation Program are working to combat the housing crisis by offering cash to home buyers in exchange for a deed restriction that ensures the home is used by a local worker. These programs, both launched within the last two years, are making the impossible possible.
Town of Truckee
Jessica Whitelock and her family have found their way back home, thanks to the Town of Truckee Home Access Program. The initiative provided them with a lifeline when soaring prices pushed them out of their beloved community.
Whitelock, a dedicated Tahoe Forest Hospital worker, and her husband, a long-time employee at Granlibakken Tahoe, had experienced a period of displacement beginning in 2017. Their rental condo in Tahoe Donner suddenly issued a 60-day eviction notice, leaving them searching for a new place to call home, but they ended up having to relocate to Reno. Complicating matters, Whitelock was nine months pregnant at the time with their now 6-year-old daughter.
“We had been local for a long time. My grandparents are here. We have a lot of family in the area,” Whitelock shared. “We didn’t necessarily move to Reno because that’s where we wanted to be or where we worked. Our family, our friends, everybody’s here.”
Facing rising housing costs, the family sought out the THAP, hoping it would provide them an opportunity to return to their cherished community. After a seamless process, they received approval through the program, a pivotal moment that would make all the difference.
The Whitelock family’s new abode, a cozy 3-bedroom, 1,700-square-foot house, became a reality after closing escrow on Jan. 24. The eagerly anticipated move back up the hill took place in February, and now Jessica, her husband, and their four children can finally settle into their Glenshire home.
Reflecting on their journey, Whitelock expressed gratitude for the support they received from the town program administrators who went above and beyond to guide them through the home-buying process.
The THAP program, which was introduced in November 2022, represents a beacon of hope for middle-class and upper-middle-class residents who, despite their hard work and stable incomes, struggle to afford homes in Truckee. Whitelock emphasized the importance of initiatives like THAP in preserving the fabric of the community, allowing families to raise their children in the place they call home.
THAP offers payments up to $150,000 to local buyers, sellers, businesses, and developers in exchange for making available for-sale or for-rent homes to the local workforce through a long-term deed restriction. The framework’s goal is to serve housing needs across the spectrum including areas where state and federal funding fall short.
Buyers benefit from the program by being provided financial assistance in exchange for a deed restriction ensuring the property is used by a local worker. Buyers can receive up to $150,000 of funding for a home price not to exceed $937,500. The financial assistance does not need to be paid back. This can help buyers purchase homes that they might not ordinarily be able to afford by providing gap financing, possibly eliminating primary mortgage insurance, lowering mortgage payments, helping to reduce interest rates through buydowns, or even to free up assets to assist with future home renovations. Town staff will work with the buyer to determine how funding would best be utilized for their individual needs.
In order to qualify for Truckee’s program, buyers cannot earn more than 245% area median income, which for a household of four in Nevada County equals $241,080. Buyers also cannot have liquid assets that exceed 30% of the home value. They must be able to obtain primary mortgage financing and have a pre-approval letter from a mortgage company.
“As we all know, it is a challenge for local buyers to find and finance a home for sale because Truckee’s housing costs are high, funding assistance is limited, and over 50% of Truckee’s housing units are utilized as second homes,” said Lynn Baumgartner, an analyst for the Town of Truckee’s housing division, during the November Mountain Housing Council meeting. “THAP is just one solution, but broadens the scope of programs to include a higher area median income limit and increase home ownership opportunities.”
A deed restriction is an agreement that is bound to the land and has certain requirements. THAP’s deed restriction is 55 years long and includes the following requirements:
- The home must be located in the Town of Truckee, the home value can’t exceed $937,500, and there can’t be any code violations on the home.
- The household must have at least one member that is currently employed 30 or more hours a week or meets the full-time employment equivalency with employee verification, or has a written offer for full time employment; all must be at an employment site within the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District boundary.
- Long-term renting is permitted when approved by the town as long as the occupant pays no more than 30% of their income toward rent and meets income and employment requirements. Short-term renting is not allowed.
- Upon resale, the home must be sold to an eligible applicant. The 55-year deed restriction clock renews at time of resale. Owners are required to notify the town prior to resale. The initial sale price limit of the home is $937,500, but there is no limit on resale price. There are income limits for the buyer upon resale.
THAP also works by paying homeowners to sell their property to an applicant that qualifies for the program. Sellers can receive the same compensation, up to $150,000 on a home with an appraised value of no more than $937,500. The seller would then sell to a THAP-approved buyer at a reduced price and the compensation would make up the difference between the reduced price and the appraised value. Sellers benefit by ensuring their homes are sold to local workers and can leverage the program’s applicant pool to help sell a home, potentially reducing selling costs and capitalizing on home profits, by reducing marketing times and expenses. The seller does not need to meet the program employment qualifications, income qualifications, or residency, but the home must be within the Town of Truckee limits.
Additionally, the program works with local businesses and developers to offer compensation to create new rental or ownership housing opportunities for the Truckee workforce.
Funding for THAP comes from Measure K, a Transient Occupancy Tax revenue measure. Currently there is approximately $300,000 in remaining funding, and town staff is working on additional fiscal allocations for the program.
At the time of publishing, 20 households have applied for THAP funding and two applicants have closed escrow on homes using the program.
To begin the Truckee Home Access program application process, visit townoftruckee.com.
Similar to the town’s initiative, Placer County’s Workforce Housing Preservation Program, established in the summer of 2021, works by paying buyers 16% of the purchase price of their home, up to $150,000, in exchange for a deed restriction requiring the home to be occupied by a local worker. Again, this financial assistance does not need to be paid back.
“Our local workers struggle to find affordable housing, and many have to commute from Reno to work here,” said Crystal Jacobsen, Placer Community Development Resource Agency Assistant Director, in a press release. “So, our goal is to create a secondary market of local worker housing and ensure that these homes will be here for many years for our local workforce.”
Brandon “DJ” Ewan, the director of business development at Granlibakken Tahoe, and his wife, a veterinary technician at Burton Creek Veterinary Clinic, have finally found solace in their new home in Alpine Meadows after enduring the challenging housing situation in Tahoe.
Originally from North Carolina, Ewan had previous experience working in Tahoe and was eager to return when he received an offer from Granlibakken two years ago. However, upon arrival, the family was met with the harsh reality of the housing crisis.
“The only way that I could really keep working in the position was for my boss to find me accommodation at the resort because he knew what a struggle it was to get into the market,” Ewan explained.
Living in a cramped studio apartment in Granlibakken became the family’s reality. “It was somewhere to live, but it was super, super tiny,” Ewan said. As full-time employees in Tahoe City, the Ewans were determined to find a place to call their own while continuing their professional commitments in the area.
After 18 months of searching for a home with multiple contracts falling through, the Ewans finally closed escrow with the help of the county. DJ, his wife, and their two sons now live in their 1,700-square-foot, 5-bedroom Alpine Meadows home. Ewan praised the responsiveness and commitment of program representatives, saying that the WHPP process was streamlined and easy to understand. “It really felt like the county was working with us the whole time,” Ewan said.
To qualify, homebuyers must have a minimum of 4% of the sale price available as a down payment. The buyer must be mortgage ready and have a lender pre-approval letter.
The deed restriction requirements include:
- At least one member of the household must be currently employed full time within the TTUSD boundary.
- The home must be located in unincorporated Eastern Placer County. The home must appraise for the purchase price and the buyer will provide all available inspection reports.
- The property may be rented on a long-term basis to a qualified occupant who meets local employment criteria.
- The property may be rented on a short-term basis for no more than 30 days each calendar year with the county’s approval.
- The property must always be occupied by one qualified resident and will be monitored annually.
- The deed restriction is 55 years long and renews with each sale or transfer of ownership.
Unlike Truckee’s program, Placer’s has no AMI or income requirements for buyers or occupants. There are no price restrictions or appreciation caps for the program.
As of publication, 40 households have applied for the program and five grants have been issued. The programs remaining funding totals $520,000. Funds are requested through board action and represent use of Transient Occupancy Tax dollars. In February the board approved $600,000 of reserved TOT dollars to increase funding for the program.
To apply for the Workforce Housing Preservation Program, visit placer.ca.gov/whpp.
For the deed restriction to be lifted in either program, the property must be owned by a single owner for a period exceeding 55 years. By reserving housing opportunities for the local workforce, these two programs aim to contribute to the betterment of the community.
“The THAP gave us the opportunity to be able to buy a home in the community in which we love,” Whitelock said. “Had it not been for THAP, I don’t know that we would’ve had the opportunity to do so, just because the prices have risen so astronomically.”