Guest column: Bringing more workforce housing to Tahoe Lake (opinion)
We’re all aware by now that housing is a crisis in the Tahoe Basin. Employers are not able to find good workers because the workers can’t find housing, long-time renters are kicked out as their landlords sell or transition to VHRs, kids who grew up here can’t afford to live here as adults.
It’s a problem that is either already affecting us directly or affecting people we know.
Leslie and Dane’s story may sound familiar. They have lived in South Shore for 14 years. They now have a 2-year old child, Isla. After working to put themselves through school, they both now have positions at Carson Tahoe — Leslie as an ICU nurse and Dane as a Radiation Tech. They love being able to work in a field that directly helps their community and want to stay in South Shore where they have built their lives.
Their housing situation, however, is like musical chairs. Since living here they’ve moved six times. Each time the rental market is smaller and more expensive. They would like to buy a home to escape the cycle of being forced to move when landlords wish to sell, however, they are finding that even the starter homes here are well out of their price range. They’d love to see quality housing options improve on South Shore so that they and others like them can stay.
Lack of housing for residents doesn’t just affect those of us looking for a place to live. Even those of us with more permanent housing are affected as a short-handed workforce impacts the critical services our town needs to function.
Pending changes to South Shore’s public transit system are one example of how this will soon impact all of us. The Tahoe Transportation District is proposing to significantly cut back the service hours on many of its routes as well as cutting all or nearly all of the ski shuttles and reducing the paratransit service area. Ski shuttles in particular take would-be drivers off the road, helping reduce traffic and parking congestion on busy weekends.
Some of the service cuts are due to lack of funding, but another significant issue is employee housing. Even after raising driver wages by 20 percent this past year, drivers cannot find places to live and the prospective drivers they do find are having to turn down job offers.
The good news is that housing has now become a No. 1 priority for many of our local businesses, organizations and agencies. Entities like Vail Resorts, the League to Save Lake Tahoe, Tahoe Regional Planning Agency and the Lake Tahoe South Shore Chamber of Commerce (Tahoe Chamber) have increased their focus on this issue.
El Dorado County just completed a government Task Force around workforce housing.
The Tahoe Chamber took community representatives on a Chamber Trek to learn how several Colorado resort communities are providing housing for their residents.
North Shore’s Mountain Housing Council is actively sharing its successful experiences over the past year with South Shore partners.
This concerned, collective effort is what it will take to address the issue. Heidi Hill Drum, CEO of the Tahoe Prosperity Center (TPC), described TPC’s new Housing Tahoe project in her column last month in the Tribune.
Housing Tahoe’s goal is to complete a demonstration housing project specifically designed for the local workforce. As part of this new effort, TPC is bringing developers, government agencies, residents and employers together to identify specific issues that need to be overcome. Once there is a completed project on the ground, others can learn from what worked and what didn’t to make future projects happen more easily.
Over the next few months, Housing Tahoe’s Community Outreach Committee will highlight the different issues that the project is tackling and discuss possible solutions. We will look at how other mountain communities are addressing this issue as well as other local efforts being undertaken to address the housing crisis.
Finally, we will share stories of community members and employers who are being directly affected by this crisis and how their situation affects the rest of the community.
In the meantime, for more information, please go to: tahoeprosperity.org/housing/.
Thank you for joining us in our collective effort to bring more housing for local residents to Lake Tahoe.
Karen Fink and Rebecca Bryson are facilitators with the Housing Tahoe Community Outreach Workgroup.