Guest column: Progress made on workforce housing but more can be done (opinion)
In classic Tahoe style, when there is a problem we study it. In the past five years, the housing issue has been studied on several fronts.
In that time, the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, Placer County and the North Tahoe-Truckee area have all conducted housing studies and the city of South Lake Tahoe updated its housing element.
What has been the result of all these studies?
Placer County has taken a proactive role in the provision of housing. In addition to allowing ADUs (accessory dwelling units) throughout their Tahoe Area Plan, they have also inventoried and mapped publicly-held land that could be used for housing projects, helped secure supportive housing for the homeless, and conducted a survey of second homeowners to understand what incentives would encourage property owners to rent their second homes longerterm. Finally, they are now looking at new ordinances for both tiny homes and cooperative housing in order to increase the number and mix of housing for county residents.
The greater North Tahoe and Truckee area formed the Mountain Housing Council following their 2016 Regional Housing Study. This council has been actively raising funds, identifying possible sites, expanding the definition and concept of workforce housing, and advocating for policy changes to promote “locally achievable” housing designed for people who live and work there. The study helped them identify the number of units needed in the region and some actions to take, which the council is now working to implement.
The current regional plan requires TRPA to regularly review its policies and regulations to remove barriers identified in preventing the construction of necessary affordable housing in the region and to work with the local jurisdictions to achieve the region’s housing needs.
To this end, TRPA contracted with Bay Area Economics in 2014 for a housing needs assessment. That report culminated in several concrete recommendations: 1) remove barriers to converting hotels and motels to residential housing; 2) remove barriers to converting mobile homes to low- and moderate-income housing; 3) allow second units (or ADUs) on small lots near centers; and 4) revise the Code of Ordinances to support workforce housing.
Over the past two years, TRPA has developed and vetted key revisions to its code to support some of these recommendations. These revisions are slated to come before the TRPA Board this October for approval.
The most significant proposal involves providing the same incentives TRPA currently gives to affordable housing to moderate-income housing projects. This is new and will start to address housing for the “missing middle” — nurses, teachers, police officers and other workers critical to the functioning of our community.
Another proposed change allows tourist accommodation units (hotel and motel units) to be converted to residential housing units and either constructed on-site or transferred to a different location. The Housing Tahoe Partnership supports these initiatives and we strongly encourage the TRPA Board to adopt these recommendations as soon as possible.
Yet another positive development is that the South Tahoe Public Utility District is proposing to allow transfers of sewer units from old motels and other development to sites where affordable and workforce housing is being added without having to pay the hook-up fee again. This policy is being finalized and is up for approval by the STPUD board this month. We feel it is an excellent new incentive to encourage local housing by reducing fees.
However, even more can be done to facilitate local workforce housing — especially for the “missing middle.” One option is to allow ADUs on residential properties throughout the region, which was mandated by the state in order to address California’s housing crisis. TRPA could approve this region-wide, but this is a step that the local jurisdictions could all take as well.
For example, ADUs are now allowed throughout the entire Tahoe portion of Placer County. And the city of South Lake Tahoe now allows ADUs in the residential area near Barton Hospital, but it would be helpful to expand that city-wide.
To date, local agencies have also stayed away from code related to mobile home conversions. Many mobile homes currently serve as affordable housing for our locals. However, when property owners redevelop these properties, they can convert the affordable mobile home units to market-rate units if the mobile home value has depreciated to zero, which in many cases it has. Updated regulations to address this scenario could help prevent additional loss of affordable housing as mobile homes age.
Finally, TRPA’s housing needs assessment included other good ideas that didn’t make it into the formal recommendations, but that we think should be pursued. For example, both private and public sector participants suggested developing prototype project specifications that could be used to illustrate best-practices and the preferred form of development.
Projects adhering to these pre-approved templates could receive expedited review by the agencies, as well as a fee waiver or reduction. And even more ideas and recommendations have come out of the Housing Tahoe Partnership workgroup meetings and the recent Tahoe Chamber Trek to Colorado.
We hope some of these additional recommendations and action steps will be taken up by both our regional and local agencies in the near future. And, as we continue to understand what our housing needs, options and next steps are, we strongly encourage our agencies and the development and business community to dedicate the resources necessary to continue to translate these plans into action on the ground.
Rebecca Bryson is a facilitator with the Housing Tahoe Partnership Outreach Work Group.