They’re our teachers, our health and wellness professionals, our chefs, servers, ski coaches, childcare providers, law enforcement, scientists, technicians, operators. They’re our neighbors, our local acquaintances, our friends. They’re us … but they don’t live here anymore.
“I never thought this housing crisis would affect us,” wrote 43-year resident and plumbing business owner Sarah Milner to the Ink. Yet it has, along with hundreds of other residents displaced by not being able to find adequate housing.
Over the past few months, Moonshine gathered the stories of Tahoe/Truckee residents who left the region not by choice, but due to the ongoing and worsening housing crisis. While some respondents relocated between 2016 and 2019, 58% have had to move during the past year and a half since Covid hit, with only one respondent displaced prior to 2016. Still others, especially in and around Truckee, remain in the region but are living in their vehicles or moving regularly in order to be able to stay.
Overall, those displaced locals represented in this piece have lived a combined total of 665 years in the Tahoe/Truckee region.
It’s a widespread problem; for example the Mountain Housing Council recently updated its 2016 housing needs assessment, which finds that the region’s unmet housing need is currently roughly 9,500, up 1,000 or 12% from the original report. Data is key, but it can be hard to remember that these numbers represent people’s lives. Hearing the details puts flesh on the bones of statistics.
In the stories shared with Moonshine, specific housing-related reasons for moving vary broadly but there are strong trends like houses being sold unexpectedly with short notice and dramatic rent or mortgage jumps. Many respondents reported that their landlords sold their rental houses, and finding a new rental situation was impossible or unaffordable. Ten-year resident Kristin Bartlett described how her “landlord gave us a 10-day notice of a 45% rent increase.” Eleven-year local resident Amy Benton’s landlord gave her family 30 days to move out while she was seven months pregnant. Pia Newman was “looking to buy [her] first home but couldn’t find anything in my price range of $300,000 to $350,000.”
Other respondents spoke of giving up on purchasing their first home in the area, with 19-year resident Coral Taylor putting it plainly: “We would love to be able to afford to live back in the Truckee/Tahoe area, but it seems infeasible at this time. Also, the existing infrastructure doesn’t seem to support the increased amount of full-time residents and visitors, which has contributed to a diminishing of the quality of life.”
Troy Cook, an excavation contractor who grew up in Truckee and lived in the region his whole life before relocating to Reno, described in colorful terms what he’d resorted to before leaving the region: “I was 32, had four other roommates living in a tiny house, I was running a welding/excavation business out of an E-Z Up in my front yard, and had three trucks and numerous pieces of heavy equipment. It was Third World living. I needed my own house and refused to buy a million-dollar shithole in Tahoe.”
And it’s not just a crisis for the actively displaced. One respondent who asked to remain anonymous and thus is not included in the memorial wall on the following pages described the constant anxiety in Tahoe/Truckee’s difficult and unpredictable housing market from being under the threat of displacement.
“I am not even paying month-to-month rent; we are living day to day,” wrote the person, who has lived in Truckee for six years while working as a teacher. For that respondent and her family, everything is “depending on when the house goes into escrow and sells. We have looked into multiple rentals, only to be half an hour from signing a lease and the owners decide to sell. It has been a nightmare and our backup plan is to move to Reno and commute to work in Truckee.”
She is not alone: Out of 40 recently displaced locals who reached out to the Ink, 16 moved to Reno, a whopping 40%. Other destinations include Sierraville, Graeagle, Sonora, and Quincy in California; Sparks and Carson City in Nevada; and other states like Idaho, Ohio, Washington, and Oregon. A number of respondents are still in the region, but have bounced from housing situation to housing situation or become mobile by making their vehicles home base.
Joanne Burke, who has lived in Truckee for eight years and works as a marriage and family therapist, has managed to remain in the region but is threatened by the fear of having to leave constantly due to housing costs, and is more worried about the effects on her kids than herself. “We have two children in the school system here and moving them will hurt them deeply,” Burke wrote.
Respondent and 36-year-resident Amber Higginbotham, along with numerous other parent respondents, agrees with Burke that the burden lies especially heavy on younger residents.
“With a studio apartment going for over $1,000, and no option to have 10 roommates with children (to help divide the rent), I could not find one thing to make it work,” Higginbotham, an assistant manager for Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows, wrote.
“Then when the pandemic hit, housing got even further out of reach, with studio apartments jumping to over $1,500 a month and homes selling in less than 24 hours with offers over the asking price. I had no option but to pack my things and move my family, roots and all, out of the area. Tearing my children from everything they knew and the friendships they have developed for years, it was the hardest decision I was ever forced to make.”
This project gives an inside glimpse of what it means when the basic need of shelter becomes a disappearing commodity. Visit In Memoriam for the Ink’s “memorial wall” to displaced locals, a personal lens on the Tahoe/Truckee housing crisis.