Elephant in the room? | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Elephant in the room?

Amanda Rhoades

Speakers at Wednesday’s 20th annual Lake Tahoe Summit — including Gov. Jerry Brown and President Barack Obama — left something out when they explained to a 9,000-person crowd why the environment is worth protecting.

Nevada Sen. Harry Reid said, “Economies like this one live and die by the health of our natural resources.”

California Sen. Barbara Boxer said that visitor access to Lake Tahoe is vital to the local economy.

“Beauty transcends politics,” Brown added, while Obama explained it is possible to have a strong economy while protecting the environment at the same time.

Each speaker had his or her own reasons for wanting to protect Lake Tahoe, but not one touched on the quality of life of the people who actually live here — the people who both work in and depend on the tourism industry for their livelihood.

Also known as — the other part of the economy.

Tahoe-Truckee isn’t the only resort area facing the problem of how to conserve natural resources while also developing affordable communities. The problem exists in lots of other communities, whether they’re resort-based or not. But the issue is also not a new one.

“Fifteen years ago, we were having a serious housing crisis,” said Rachael Pellissier, the former executive director of the now-defunct Workforce Housing Association of Truckee Tahoe, in a recent interview.

The Workforce Housing Association is one of the key funding partners listed on the Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation’s 2016 Regional Housing Study, along with the town of Truckee, as well as Placer and Nevada counties.

WHATT formed in September 2002 to help create policy and advocate for affordable housing.

“It was before the crash,” said Pellissier, referring to the 2007 housing bubble crash and the Great Recession that followed. “The median home cost was around $600,000 or some crazy thing, and there was no where for any of the workforce to live.”

She said that although the organization never purchased land or got to the point where they were doing any development themselves, WHATT did start working with developers to get affordable housing built.

“We got a bunch of businesses together to figure out how to deal with the shortage,” she said.

Businesses, she said, were suffering because their employees couldn’t find anywhere to live — much like the situation facing Tahoe and Truckee today.

Pellissier left the organization in 2008, and shortly after, WHATT ceased operations. She said she wasn’t sure what caused the organization to shut down, but said she thought it could have been a lack of funding.

WHATT’s founder, former Truckee Mayor Breeze Cross, who was a member of the inaugural Truckee Town Council back in 1993, did not respond to interview attempts from the Sierra Sun.

Truckee Town Manager Tony Lashbrook said in an earlier interview with the Sierra Sun, “… There’s a housing crisis in the region — much like it was before the recession, maybe worse.”

On Aug. 23, Truckee Town Council heard a presentation from TTCF Project Manager Sara Schrichte, which highlighted the region’s housing need.

At that meeting, Lashbrook pointed out that the 2016 Regional Housing Study didn’t break down the needs of each local community individually, but he also said, “True solutions are only going to happen if it’s a regional effort.”

In a recent interview, Nevada County Planning Director Brian Foss said county staff is planning on presenting the housing study to the Board of Supervisors on Oct. 25, but no specifics have yet been determined for that county.

As reported by the Sierra Sun on Aug. 19, Placer County is also planning to discuss housing at its own board of supervisors meeting on Oct. 25.

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