Affordable housing issue is thorny to the touch |

Affordable housing issue is thorny to the touch

Gregory Crofton, Tahoe Daily Tribune

Affordable housing is Lake Tahoe’s Lochness Monster.

Is the concept a myth; does it exist but is impossible to find; or is it disappearing so fast that it will be difficult to prove it ever existed?

The verdict is still out. With land as tightly controlled as it is in the Lake Tahoe Basin, affordable projects are thorny to the touch despite incentives provided by the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency.

However, there are a number of rent-controlled apartments in the works at North Shore and South Shore, said Lyn Barnett, chief of project review at TRPA.

They include:

— 78 units restricted to seniors are slated to go in at Dollar Point, near Tahoe City;

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— 110 units of unrestricted affordable housing are proposed for Agate Bay, between Tahoe City and Kings Beach;

— 35 units, some affordable, some market rate, are being planned near Sandy Beach and Tahoe Sands at Agate Bay;

— 30-unit complex called Meadowbrook is to go in at Stateline, off Kahle Drive;

— 18-unit complex called Emerald Bay Estates, restricted to developmentally disabled people, is slated for South Lake Tahoe between 10th and 13th streets;

— 26-unit complex called Evergreen Apartments is planned for South Lake Tahoe off Melba Drive.

Patrick Conway, South Lake Tahoe housing and economic development coordinator, secured a $1 million grant that will be used to build Emerald Bay Estates.

“I think we have been able to find projects and developer interest because of the grant funding we’ve been able to seek through state and federal sources,” Conway said. “It’s just the amount of funds you get to do an affordable housing project isn’t anywhere close to covering the needs of our community.”

Emerald Bay Estates, which is set to get started in June, is going to cost $2.5 million to build. The developer, in this case, was able to locate $1.5 million in additional grant money, Conway said.

Affordable housing projects are also challenging because they involve land, zoning, politics and community acceptance, Barnett said.

To combat such factors, the TRPA creates breaks for affordable housing projects. The projects are exempt from having to obtain an allocation of development or a development right — the TRPA substitutes them with what are called bonus units.

Being able to access bonus units decreases the cost of development because gathering a bunch of development rights can be costly, and saves the developer from having to wait in line for an allocation.

And since developers don’t have secure development rights, existing developments rights tied to the property can be sold.

Affordable housing projects are also allowed to be denser than other types of development, but only if that additional mass is not greater than other structures in the area, Barnett said.

And lastly, if a project is to be built near a transit line, the TRPA allows a developer to reduce the number of required parking spaces.

— Gregory Crofton can be reached at (530) 542-8045 or by e-mail at