Code change eyed to promote affordable housing |

Code change eyed to promote affordable housing

Amanda Fehd

A committee of four regional county and city leaders voted unanimously Friday to recommend the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency Governing Board adopt more code changes to spur the building of affordable housing.

Lauded by many attendees as a big step forward, the TRPA’s Local Government Committee reviewed recommendations by TRPA staff and the Lake Tahoe Housing Coalition and agreed to urge the board to adopt code changes as part of the Tahoe Valley community plan.

“I would like the board to incorporate code changes into the community plan,” said John Upton, South Lake Tahoe City Councilmember and TRPA board member. “I feel very strongly that the likelihood is fairly high, that we will be able to make this work.”

Many thought the process was now moving tangibly forward.

“We’ve made a lot of progress today,” said Deb Howard, head of the Lake Tahoe Housing Coalition and a real estate agent.

“We’ve been beating our heads on an unmoveable rock for so long. The TRPA has reviewed our request for a reasonable change of code. Deed-restricted housing and code changes will result in quality housing.”

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As housing prices have skyrocketed in the Tahoe Basin, wages for teachers, hospital workers, firemen and policemen have remained stagnant, leaving agencies with high attrition and a workforce that commutes hundreds of miles a day.

A sense of immediacy was also evident in comments from committee members and the public. About 45 people attended. “If we wait until a 2007 plan is approved, that would be a big mistake,” said developer Randy Lane. “I don’t think anyone in this room can say we’ll see interest rates in the 5 to 6 percent level at that point. It’s important for us to try to capitalize on the moment.”

The TRPA has made eight code changes in the last five years to encourage creation of affordable housing. The changes addressed significant impediments by increasing coverage, allowing property subdivisions and increasing density for projects. Affordable housing units also do not need an allocation.

But the code still restricts building heights to two stories on a single-family dwelling, including condominiums. Developers hope to get this increased to three stories to make projects more financially feasible. Limited land coverage and density still come into play.

Affordable housing would be deed-restricted to moderate incomes and full-time residents. TRPA executive director John Singlaub recommended creation of a local housing authority to enforce deed-restrictions, which was supported by several speakers.

TRPA staff, committee members and those in attendance seemed convinced reasonable code changes could be made to allow aesthetically pleasing affordable housing, at no cost to the environment if done right.

“The willingness of TRPA to experiment is delightful,” said Dave Jinkens, city manager for South Lake Tahoe, acknowledging city governments are realizing they need to do their part.

“We are all pulling together. To change something is Herculean. If we do nothing, nothing is going to change.”