Housing remains hot topic for city | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Housing remains hot topic for city

Susan Wood, Tahoe Daily Tribune

With half of the 20 low-income mobile home parks deemed dilapidated by a surveyor, finding ways to bring more affordable housing to South Lake Tahoe has become more critical.

The point that came out of Tuesday’s South Lake Tahoe City Council meeting represents the bane and the blessing of the perplexing housing problem in the city.

“This could be our greatest opportunity. I think this is one area we need to focus on,” Councilman Tom Davis said at the meeting.

The city hired a consultant to measure the level of housing needs of its varying demographic to develop the housing element — a section of its general plan. It establishes a blueprint for cities to follow in guiding policy relative to land-use planning.

California mandates the final draft, which is due Dec. 31.

The council unanimously approved the working draft, which in its completion, the city will use to secure grant funds that may be earmarked for housing rehabilitation.

Repair and land-use aside, it was the topic of vacation rentals that brought on the most dialogue and packed the chambers.

The council followed the lead of the Planning Commission in approving the preliminary draft — minus references to vacation home rentals once mentioned in the draft.

The step by the council handed a clear victory to an industry wrought with recent challenges of threatened restrictions to property rights.

Like many recent meetings on the subject, representatives of property management firms and Realtors came out in full force in council chambers to oppose the language originally drafted to balance the housing needs of its residents.

In one section of the draft, the language implied the city “take actions to reduce the loss of permanent housing in neighborhoods and increase the percentage of the housing stock available for permanent rentals and local homeownership.”

Some real estate practitioners have criticized that theory under the notion housing pricing and availability is driven by supply and demand.

Tahoe Keys Resort co-owner Alex Graf gave the council and audience a short lesson in this basic law of economics. He said there will be a trickle-down effect of lost jobs if the industry is forced to close up shop because of increased regulations.

“A great majority of vacation home rentals are not classified as affordable housing,” he said.

This statement serves as an aspect of the housing element the city’s planning board had in mind last Thursday. It decided to scrap the mention of vacation rentals in the housing element, Commissioner Pat Frega told the council.

Frega said the commission discovered the community needs more housing to serve lower income levels, and homes used for vacationers don’t fall within these categories.

Councilman John Upton called the Planning Commission’s decision to remove references that place restrictions on the housing rentals “a higher wisdom.”

Upton also agreed with City Manager Dave Jinkens’ suggestion that the council not adopt any part of the document it doesn’t expect to set policy on. There were other considerations mentioned.

Sharon Kerrigan, the South Tahoe Association of Realtors spokeswoman, also noted a potential problem agents may have if they fail to disclose the housing restrictions to the letter of the law.

But resident Ed Moser suggested that perhaps there are too many agents in South Lake Tahoe if there’s such a level of concern over the threat of restrictions on the industry.

After hours of discussion, the City Council opted to strike the language from the document and pledged to create incentives to help developers facilitate plans to bring in more affordable housing projects.

To gain a clear understanding of the complex task, Realtor Deb Howard recommended the council form a subcommittee by pulling resources from the community from among people who deal with housing every day.

The city enlisted the help of a Sacramento firm to help draft the housing element and meet a California mandate. A state representative also surveyed the area.

The state requires the city provide 53 more housing units under its guidelines, which are passed through the Sacramento Area Council of Governments.

The 2-inch document, which has been spearheaded by city planner Lisa O’Daly, is filled with statistics that provide a detailed view of the South Shore’s demographic profile and social needs.

It highlights that over half the residents earn less than $26,000 a year, with wages in service jobs ranging from $9 to $15 an hour.

Some people rent motel rooms by the week at rates ranging between $100 and $150 per week, thus making it more difficult for residents to afford to save for a home.

South Lake Tahoe’s median household income is $34,707.

It’s not the city’s responsibility to build affordable housing. It must ensure areas are zoned for such use.

The council took a step in that direction by later approving a zone change that would accommodate a 26-unit, deed-restricted affordable housing project on Melba Drive.

The parcels to be used for the housing complex were designated for commercial and industrial use. Now, they’re deemed residential.

A neighbor, Richard Jacobs, expressed concerns the development would harbor continued inappropriate behavior by transients and break his view.

But council members ensured him the development would emulate the Tahoe Senior Plaza, which was constructed by the developer wanting to build the Melba Drive project.

— Susan Wood can be reached at (530) 542-8009 or via e-mail at swood@tahoedailytribune.com

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