Affordable housing concerns outlined |

Affordable housing concerns outlined

Susan Wood, Tribune staff writer

The hope for making housing more affordable in South Lake Tahoe has hit home once again.

With the long list of ways to tackle the subject, one thing’s for sure: most everyone on the South Shore sees a perplexing problem.

This was the sense of the controversial topic that came before more than 40 people who gathered Thursday at the California Base Lodge of Heavenly Ski Resort.

The follow-up meeting from more than a year ago started shortly after a double rainbow graced the South Lake Tahoe sky, a vivid sight that struck a few people as uncanny if one looks at it as a symbol of hope.

While fewer than half did not represent a business interest of some type, speaker after speaker described the tourist town’s quandary of finding housing for workers outside the upper income brackets.

In the last six years, South Lake Tahoe’s property values have doubled, pricing many residents out of the market. The median price for a single-family home in South Lake Tahoe is $318,000 — an increase of $29,000 since December and $22,000 higher than the state’s median price.

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The situation has recently become so drastic that Century 21 real estate agent Jerry Reed pointed out how the California Association of Realtors has set a five-year goal of $20 million to go into a housing affordability fund to help the state’s residents take out low-interest loans. The state-audited C.A.R. funds, billed as tax deductible, now total $2 million. The money will be distributed in grants to local jurisdictions.

Reed encouraged the South Shore audience to get involved, given the market’s volatility and residents’ desire to secure a piece of the American dream.

Beyond prices going up, the inventory of available housing has dropped — further exacerbating the issue.

Since 1997, the number of units has decreased from about 600 to 125, Reed added.

Of those who are buying, more than two-thirds have turned their property into rentals. The more than 3,000 owner-occupied units have been dwarfed by the 9,000 rentals.

“It’s dramatic when you think about the people who own property here actually (not) living here,” he said.

Reed’s figures regarding the difficulty among working class residents to find affordable housing were supported by Craig Morris of Lake Tahoe Accommodations, a local property management firm.

After evaluating rental properties in the Tahoe Daily Tribune’s classified advertisements from the Tahoe Keys to the state line over the last three years, Morris surmised renters are being squeezed.

Condominiums in the last six years have gone up in rent on the average by 19 percent from $702 to $838. Homes have gained a 10 percent edge upward from $913 to $1,010.

“The most dramatic is the three-bedroom category,” Morris said.

These homes rent for $1,290, up from $702 listed in January 2001.

The income levels for permanent residents have not kept pace with these rising prices.

With that, fulfillment of the American dream for its residents has made the forefront of the city’s agenda now more than ever, planner Lisa O’Daly told the audience.

While working on the housing element — a section of the general plan, the city learned from its consultants that 56 percent of South Lake Tahoe residents qualify in the low-income category. With the average household income in town at $40,572, it’s no wonder there’s such interest in the city’s first-time home buyer program, she stressed. In a list of qualifications, people who are eligible for affordable housing are renters who consume more than 30 percent of their average wages on shelter and homeowners who use 35 percent.

With the siren of concern resonating throughout the basin, there’s welcome news on the horizon, Heavenly human resources manager Les Marsh told the group.

“I think we’re ahead of the curve,” Marsh said, comparing the South Shore situation to Vail’s a few years ago.

Marsh, who worked at the Colorado town before coming to work here last fall, showed the audience slides of Vail’s housing projects. He said the alarm bells appear to be sounding sooner in California.

In addition, Deanna Weber of the Design Workshop displayed her company’s affordable housing projects in other tourist areas. Weber lived in workforce housing when she worked for her design firm in Aspen. Echoing O’Daly’s comment, Weber cited how affordable units don’t have to mean cheap.

At Weber’s Stateline office, some staffers live in affordable housing units at the Lake Vista Apartments complex.

“They like it. You can walk to convenience stores and trails are nearby,” she said.

Although everyone recognizes there is a problem, definitive solutions were elusive and is there no date to reconvene.

— Susan Wood can be reached at (530) 542-8009 or via e-mail at