Affordable homes: Mammoth may be model for Tahoe basin |

Affordable homes: Mammoth may be model for Tahoe basin

Megan Feldman

At 30, with cropped, blonde hair and stylish glasses, Andrea Clark isn’t your typical affordable housing maven.

Her creative problem-solving and relentless push for results just might revolutionize the Sierra’s approach to its most vexing problem.

Since becoming executive director of Mammoth Lakes Housing Inc. less than one year ago, Clark has been dubbed Mammoth’s affordable housing queen for her efforts to house a work force that’s seen the average home price rise to $1.3 million (the average condo costs $530,000).

With limited land available for development, soaring home prices and a service-oriented resort economy, Tahoe’s situation is similar to Mammoth’s and that of other communities working to solve the affordable housing conundrum.

Places like Whistler, B.C., Breckenridge, Colo., and Santa Fe, N.M., could also serve as models for Tahoe. For them, as with Lake Tahoe, the core issue is what kind of community people want.

“The housing debate in Mammoth is about keeping our community,” Clark said at an affordable housing forum organized by the Sierra Business Council in Kings Beach. “If we can’t house our work force in our town, we’ll cease being a town.”

Town teams up with housing nonprofit

Mammoth requires that new developments provide housing for 60 percent of the employee positions they create. The local government also passed a measure in 2002 that designates one of 12 cents charged for Transient Occupancy Tax to housing.

In 2003, the town government negotiated with big-time developer Intrawest and Mammoth Ski Resort to donate start-up funds for a new nonprofit dedicated to providing affordable housing. Clark’s organization was born.

In less than two years, the group has raised $15.3 million for housing.

After new taxes were approved to go toward housing, Clark said she was jolted into action in part by political pressure to see new projects on the ground. Her first week on the job, she put an offer on a million-dollar acre and convinced the town to finance it with TOT housing funds.

The project, scheduled to begin construction this year, will include 24 condominiums, half sold to moderate-income families with a maximum price of $375,000, the other half rented to low-income families long term.

Her advice to Tahoe?

“In the real estate market, waiting and analyzing and planning … only costs you money,” Clark said. “If you can muster the political support behind you, you can find the resources to make it happen … the key is taking risk and making strange bedfellows.”

Getting things done: creative, flexible solutions

Much of Clark’s reputation is based on her willingness to try new things, brainstorming to come up with innovative solutions that don’t fit the bureaucratic mold.

She’s negotiated with developers to find unique mitigation alternatives, like the one involving a developer who, instead of including affordable units in his project, has agreed to direct fees to a local college for student housing construction. Such arrangements avoid the common problem of mitigation fees accumulating only to languish in government accounts.

Clark stressed the importance of bringing developers to the table.

“There needs to be room in every ordinance for partnership with the development industry,” she said. “It’s really worth the effort to find those creative solutions.”

Another of those was a sort of barter arrangement. The local water district agreed to donate half an acre to one of the organization’s new housing developments in exchange for two of the district’s employees being put high on the list to become tenants.

Make alliances, build a coalition

Mammoth and other resort towns that have taken an effective swipe at the affordable housing problem have one thing in common: a strong ability to build diverse coalitions.

Whistler, B.C., in 1997 created an umbrella organization, the Whistler Housing Authority, and by 2000 it had produced more than 1,200 employee beds. Today the town boasts 3,850.

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