Afforable housing causes uproar
Douglas County leaders criticized the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency Thursday for claiming the county hasn’t done enough to help provide affordable housing in the Lake Tahoe Basin.
Douglas commissioners claim the county has done its best given Tahoe’s high land prices, the lack of property available for development and TRPA regulations that can hinder the process.
For five years, TRPA has annually revisited the issue of whether the basin’s communities have done their “fair share” to provide income-restricted affordable housing for ski resort and casino employees as well as other low-wage earners. TRPA staff earlier this month said it didn’t plan to recognize the efforts of Douglas, Washoe and El Dorado counties.
“(TRPA’s) findings are premature,” Steve Weissinger, Douglas commissioner, told TRPA representatives at the county’s board meeting. “If it was five years from now and nothing was in the ground, I might agree with you. But probably not.”
Previously TRPA’s board had recommended all the jurisdictions had been doing enough, but this year only Placer County and South Lake Tahoe may earn passing marks.
“I don’t disagree everyone is trying,” said Gabby Barrett, TRPA manager of long-range planning. “But at some point we need to see some product.”
“Product” is exactly what Douglas County has not been able to put in the Tahoe Basin. No subsidized affordable housing exists in the county’s portion of the basin. Still, Douglas County officials claim there was significant progress in 1999. A 64-unit affordable housing project scheduled for the Kingsbury area was approved this year, and the county was key in getting hundreds of the thousands of dollars for it.
“I think it’s significant progress in Douglas County that we’re moving in the right direction,” said Don Miner, Douglas commissioner and the county’s representative on TRPA’s governing board.
Commissioners also criticized TRPA for taking its stance because the agency itself has identified that few parcels exist in the county where affordable housing could be built. And it will take changes to TRPA regulations for many of those sites to become viable options.
“If it’s so damn important, why won’t TRPA do it’s fair share to reduce the impediments,” Miner said.
If TRPA’s board makes the finding next month that the county hasn’t done its share, that action would put a one-year moratorium on building housing subdivisions in the Kingsbury area, keeping higher-priced housing from taking limited space away from potential affordable housing sites.
That probably wouldn’t impact the county, Miner said, but he was still upset by the proposal.
“We don’t really care about subdivisions at Kingsbury; it’s the disrespect when we’re out there doing our best,” Miner said.
TRPA’s Barrett said the agency was trying to find ways to create more opportunities for affordable housing in the county. And he said he had “personally struggled” with the decision to categorize Douglas as not having done its fair share.
After talking with the county, he said that position may change.
“I say right now it’s a close call,” he said.
TRPA’s governing board likely will address the issue in January.
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