In the hot topic of housing, the ‘missing middle’ class often gets skipped over. These are people who make too much to be accepted into low-income deed-restricted housing, but have trouble finding housing in Tahoe/Truckee’s strained market.
While some solutions have been put in place, Tahoe City local developer Sean Whelan has a new plan to address the issue. His project, Residences at Jibboom, is proposed to take over the current part-time parking lot on Jibboom Street in Truckee across from the post office. Whelan, owner and developer of Residences at Jibboom, sees this as an opportunity for a live-work-play environment.
“The demographics in historic Truckee are changing,” said Whelan, who spent 15 years in San Francisco developing housing units to drive down prices for first-time buyers before returning to North Tahoe. “There’s more urban escapees coming here and wanting to have a mini urban feel, but have access to the outdoors. Truckee is a suburban mentality right now.”
Whelan is nudging that mentality from suburban to a densely populated downtown area — a pedestrian haven for people who live and work within walking proximity.
That mentality fits pretty well with what the Mountain Housing Council of Tahoe-Truckee calls ‘achievable local housing’ — a term that includes the homeless population all the way up to the missing middle, or 195% of the Area Median Income.
The council doesn’t endorse specific projects, but Seana Doherty, project director, said she’s excited to see more projects like Whelan’s in the works.
“People want the idea of living somewhere where you don’t have to use your car … ” said Doherty. “More density, more walkability, smaller units — all those components have come forward as models throughout the state and country as far as how you create affordability and great community.”
Whelan is proposing Residences at Jibboom to have 83 units within the existing 1.67 acres. Of those, 49 will be rental units, 13 of which will be dedicated inclusionary housing for tenants who fall below the AMI. The remaining 34 units will be condominiums for sale. Whelan described the housing as a rough income breakdown in thirds: very low income, low income, and moderate income.
All 83 units will be geared toward Truckee locals, specifically the workforce.
Referring to his future residents, Whelan explained that “all of them would fit the description of the workforce, which is the people that make too much to qualify for assistance and make not enough to buy a house in Tahoe.”
Though he admits building condos and selling them as second homes would be easier, Whelan is determined to move forward on housing solutions for the missing middle. Housing like Residences at Jibboom is for people in his own circles who struggle to buy houses but make too much money for affordable housing; trapped in the vicious cycle of finding roommates only to replace them again and again.
Whelan’s Residences at Jibboom application is listed as under review with the Town of Truckee’s planning division. He and his partner, Kevin Sloane, have been working with the division for two years now, and Whelan says he doesn’t see construction beginning for at least another two years, assuming the town approves the project.
“What’s unique about this specific process is it’s a downtown development and we get those less frequently … We haven’t had one in over 10 years,” said Denyelle Nishimori, Community Development director for the town. “There’s more factors considered when something is downtown.”
Heavy-hitting checkbox items remain for Whelan before he submits his final application to the planning division, including finalizing a parking study and environmental work. From there, public notices go out and the project is presented to Truckee’s Historic Preservation Advisory Commission (HPAC).
When the project does finally go before town council, planning staff will serve as independent review, making a recommendation on whether the project is consistent with current plans and codes. Whelan has discussed his project informally with the council, saying at least three of the members have encouraged him to bring the project forward — a good sign.
Even so, Whelan is trying to be as transparent and up to date about the project as possible to avoid any last-minute surprises, but said he understands that change is difficult.
“It’s been a dirt lot for a long time and suddenly you’re going to have these structures,” he said. “There’s going to be three or four big buildings there. That’s going to cause some heartache for some people that don’t want to see any change.”
But, he furthered, he and Sloane are making the Residences as green as possible by employing car share opportunities, planting more trees, and encouraging the workforce residents to walk to their needs rather than drive.
“It’s pretty close to being a place where somebody could actually live there, work, socialize, buy their groceries, and not use a car,” Whelan said.