Housing hurdles: Advocates call for those with 2nd homes to help ‘land locals’
With a season-dictated, tourist-based economy, the North Lake Tahoe workforce faced longstanding affordable housing issues long before Zoom’s subscription fees replaced Bay Area commuters’ bridge tolls.
Now, said Tara Zuardo, project manager for the Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation’s Mountain Housing Council, the crisis calls for all actors to play their part.
“The region was already in dire circumstances, and then it went into extreme circumstances,” Zuardo said. “We haven’t really been able to catch up at all.”
Caroline Caffrey, communications manager for the foundation, said data indicates the Zoom Boom is real, and estimates that Truckee’s population grew by 10,000 people over the last 18 months. According to the 2019 census, Truckee’s population pre-pandemic was over 16,000.
“The postal service said 14,000 residents moved to the area from San Francisco-East Bay,” Caffrey said, adding that Tahoe was hit harder than other popular cities people escaped to during the pandemic — like Austin, for instance — where 3,000 people reportedly relocated from the Bay within the same period of time.
Profiteers and late-stage pioneers can no longer “just build” to compensate for North Lake Tahoe’s low housing inventory, Zuardo said, as there are enough physical and logistical impediments to the process to deter well intended developers with ample financial resources.
Zuardo said the region’s iconic mountains naturally limit the potential for sprawl, and local policies restricting vertical development. Local contractors regularly struggle with an abbreviated construction season, but this year faced unusually high construction costs of limited materials and a finite workforce.
John Falk, legislative advocate of Tahoe Sierra Board of Realtors, said affordable housing is harder to develop than market-rate housing.
“There are more hurdles to jump through for the developer to make it happen,” Falk said, citing the high cost of licensing contractors, among others.
According to Falk, developers must find the time to ensure they qualify and apply for relevant grants or government subsidies that legitimize and support their affordable housing project.
“If you want to secure tax credits and grants and other opportunities that are available on the local and federal level, then you have to submit them and some are very technical,” Falk said. “A lot of firms have dedicated people who do that work because it’s so important to get it right.”
Falk said the developer’s responsibility does not end there.
“There are reporting requirements and ongoing paperwork that is attached to affordable housing developments,” Falk said. “These are not impediments, but they are additional burdens to the person who wants to develop. It’s far more difficult to make it pencil out, especially here in the high Sierra.”
Zuardo said all those factors played a part in project delays over the last two years, but Placer County and the Housing Council still chose to celebrate the community’s efforts to address the escalating housing crisis in the area in the form during a ribbon cutting Oct. 1.
Henness Flats (opened 2007) — 92 rental units
Frishman Hollow I (opened 2008) — 32 rental units
Kings Beach Housing — 77 rental units
Coldstream Commons (opened in July 2021) — 48 rental units, 60% AMI or below
Truckee Artist Lofts (slated to open fully this month) — 76 rental units, 80% AMI or below
To Open Later This Year
Frishman Hollow II in Truckee — 68 rental units, 80% AMI or below
Meadow View Place in Martis Valley, Placer County — 56 rental units, 60% AMI or below
Hopkins Village in Martis Valley, Placer County — 40 units for sale, 180% AMI or below
The event highlighted 288 relatively new affordable housing units across five developments to be made available by 2022.
According to Zuardo, the 86 rental units already open are available at the Truckee Artist Lofts and Coldstream Commons. One hundred sixty-two more rentals should be ready to occupy at the Lofts and Frishman Hollow II in Truckee, as well as Meadow View Place in Martis Valley, Placer County, this December.
To Zuardo, the ribbon cutting was a sign of hope and insisted the issue’s aggressive growth over the pandemic demands more realistic and timely community-driven solutions.
QUANTIFYING THE NEED
According to a study conducted by Economics & Planning Systems, Inc. and delivered to the housing council in April, the region needs 9,500 affordable housing units — over 1,000 more than the need estimated at the council’s inception in 2016.
“That’s the total number of people who need housing, period, and those who are inadequately housed,” Zuardo said. “Maybe the plumbing doesn’t work or there are more than three people per room.”
According to the report Zuardo referenced in her June presentation to the public, housing conditions specifically deteriorated for demographics already affected by the region’s low inventory, namely resident workers — including seniors and veterans — who are living in inadequate housing , in-commuters, seasonal workers and the homeless.
Researchers identified 34,191 total units within a study area across eastern Nevada County and Placer County’s 5th District, running from Washington across Truckee to Floriston and down to Tahoma.
Zuardo said pre-pandemic, 65% of the studied units remained unoccupied six months or more. In Truckee alone, Zuardo estimates 7,000 units are unoccupied at any given time.
“If we could convince our second vacation homeowners to simply rent out their homes, we could solve our crises,” Zuardo said.
According to Zuardo, Landing Locals is a small, local company dedicated to bridging the gap between second homeowners and year-round residents coming head-to-head with the local housing crises.
“It’s two people working with landowners to basically incentivize them to rent to the local workforce,” Zuardo said, adding that funding for the effort just increased and the program, recently adopted by Placer County, expanded to include and support room rentals.
Zuardo said utilizing existing structures to house those un- or under-housed makes sense and is an appealing solution as someone who appreciates the power of incentives.
Zuardo said her team intends to exhaust all options to address the housing issues in the area, but said the 18,000 homes she estimates remain vacant for over half of the year could help meet the needs of 9,500 people seeking housing locally.
FOR SALE: DEED RESTRICTIONS
On the buyers’ side of it all, the housing market’s low inventory has driven real estate prices to new highs.
“Supply is near record low,” Falk said. “In the dearth of availability, affordability is the first thing that suffered.”
Zuardo said the current median price of a North Shore home — $1.125 million — is a result of a 129% increase since before the pandemic. In Truckee, a 44% increase in the average cost of a home has the “average” residence selling for $1.8 million.
“Thirty-three percent of the new residents work in the tech industry,” Zuardo said, adding that the effect of growing income inequality in the region is obvious by its effect on local real estate.
“It’s a competitive market, so as long as you set the price as reasonable, it’s not uncommon for people to outbid or offer cash bid to overcome someone with an mortgage,” Falks said.
Zuardo said she is looking forward to the increased availability of starter homes, even if she doubts how inspired tentative home buyers may be by the properties’ deed restrictions.
Falk said homeowners want to be purchasing equity, and suggest a slight twist on the model set forth in the plan for the 40 units at Hopkins Village.
“We suggested that if you do a deed restriction on a for sale home, then you’re really trying to ensure that people who live in this community can become invested and integrated,” Falk said. “We don’t want bad actors just buying and flipping.”
Falk said if private or public entities want to support tentative homeowners by putting a silent second down for those on the cusp of qualifying, if the new owner sells within five years they should return 100% of that gift. If the resident stays for 10 years, Falk suggested they be required to pay back 50% of the second down payment, and 25% if they stay for 15 years.
“It would be a deescalation of what you owe,” Falk explained, “and the equity that the owner has increases the longer they stay in the community.”
This model frees up the market and the home if the buyer sells again sooner than expect.
“That money can go back to the town or private entity that funded it and it can be recycled or reused in the community,” Falks said.
The buyer-saturated housing market is making the rental market more hostile to long-term residents as well, Zuardo said.
“(The study) found rental prices have risen by 25-50% in the past few months,” Zuardo said, explaining that analysts would have observed the increase in the six months between November 2020 and April. “Landlords are kicking out existing renters who have been here their whole lives because they can sell their house for a good price.”
Rebecca O’Neil is a staff writer with the Sierra Sun and The Union, sister publications of the Tribune.
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