Tahoe Town Hall tackles affordable housing; what’s next? (opinion)
Tribune Guest Columnist
This past Wednesday the Tahoe Regional Young Professionals hosted a Tahoe Town Hall at the Tahoe Beach Retreat’s conference center. Affordable housing seems to be the one of the defining issues of the upcoming campaign cycle and was the topic of discussion for the evening. The event was well attended, with over 130 at the meeting and more than 180 live streaming off site. While the conversation was tense at times, many ideas on the best way to move forward with a solution to affordable housing bubbled out of the Q&A session. Nonprofits, vacation home rentals, workforce compensation and planner incentives were all discussed. The biggest question is; which option is best for us as a community to pursue?
Do we start a nonprofit organization to collect and allocate funds for affordable housing projects or join an existing organization? A nonprofit could also rally political pressure to get our local government and government agencies to put this issue on the front burner to enact positive change. A nonprofit could additionally collect money to help fund affordable housing projects in our area. St. Joseph’s Community Land Trust is already doing some of this, and the El Dorado Community Foundation has started to be active in our community with an interest in helping out with the housing crisis. A newly formed group, Progress 4 Tahoe, shined a light on affordable housing this spring as well. While Progress 4 Tahoe is still working out a mission statement and overall goal, it is a diverse group of people who want Tahoe to be for all, not just the few.
Do we put stricter regulations on vacation home rentals (VHRs)? The City of South Lake Tahoe has already taken steps toward limiting vacation rentals and stricter code enforcement. But if you live in Stateline, Nevada, or the county portion of South Lake you’ll need to contact your local governments to ask what they’re doing to help with housing in your neighborhood. If you feel passionate about the proliferation of vacation homes, continue to stay active in the ongoing regulations in our community. Second homes will always be a part of our community, and we feel the main issue is balance in our neighborhoods.
Do we implore our larger employees to pay their staff a living wage? While the minimum wage is $10 an hour in California and $9 an hour in Nevada, most service workers don’t work a full 40 hours a week in our community. Do the math — the numbers don’t add up unless you’re willing to work two to three jobs and/or to live with multiple roommates in substandard conditions. How does In-N-Out Burger pay their employees so much while still charging so little for a burger? They ask more of them while they’re at work and don’t settle for mediocrity. If you pay the minimum, you can expect the minimum as well. We should also implore the larger employers in town to look into collaborating on workforce housing for their seasonal staff. This is commonplace in areas such as Maui and other tourism destinations.
What about developer incentives and penalties, the old carrot and stick approach? We could entice developers of affordable housing with deferred payments for utility hookups and school district fees. Another option is gifting government owned property to a developer committed to building affordable housing. We’ve all heard the horror stories of trying to build anything new in Tahoe, and if we can get all the local jurisdictions to bend or give a little we can make progress. For those developers that are building upscale properties, we could start an inclusionary housing policy. This states if you build a property that will fetch a certain amount per square foot ($1,000 per square foot, for example), you either pay a fee to the city that then reinvests in affordable housing or build affordable housing in addition to the upscale property. Where is the staff of these upscale properties supposed to live if we don’t think of them when creating new developments?
We feel the answer is all of the above — it’s going to take a holistic approach with multiple efforts from our community to make the change we all want to see happen. We can’t sit on the sidelines and expect those in power to do what we all want without showing up or raising our voices. Now is the time for you to get involved.
Contact your local representatives and tell them this is the most important issue to you right now. Fixing our roads is short-term; it’ll take one big winter and the potholes will come back. Housing solutions are long-term. If you vote in the City of South Lake Tahoe, vote “yes” for the minor sales tax increase and demand the money go toward housing. Join an organization that is focused on finding solutions and raising funds. Ignoring this issue will continue to push much our workforce to live “off the hill” and commute into the basin, which is a lose-lose situation. It’s terrible for the air and roads we depend on. Additionally, all the air pollution road run-off is detrimental to our famous lake, the main reason we all live here and people from all over the world come to visit.
Let’s work together to find solutions to this problem so that we can all enjoy this place we call home.
Matt Palacio works at Sierra-at-Tahoe Resort. He’s a TRYP Civic Engagement Committee member and a founding member of Progress 4 Tahoe.