Housing insecurity at Lake Tahoe: Opportunities to get informed, involved (Opinion)
Most people know about the housing crisis here and elsewhere. But what people may not know is how this housing crisis is changing the face of homelessness.
Homelessness used to be associated with unemployment and mental health issues. In the past 5-10 years, there has been a growing number of people working one or more jobs that are facing housing insecurity — and even homelessness. The workers who help sustain our community are getting relentlessly priced out of it. Their paychecks are no longer enough to keep a roof over their heads.
As such, this issue now affects working and middle class families and their children — our children.
In 2016, 290 children in our LTUSD school system were identified as homeless or housing insecure. Does this mean that they are living in the streets or in a tent? Not necessarily. But it does mean that many nights, they don’t know where they are going. Maybe to a friend’s house or sofa, a rundown motel, and increasingly, just to a car.
Interviewing youth in town, we have heard stories of families being given as little as seven days notice to evict and then scrambling to find a place. Sometimes a friend or relative comes through for a few weeks until some better arrangement is found, but sometimes not —especially when people are already living in overcrowded conditions.
Two young people — both working two jobs — told me how hard it is to compete in a pool of 20 people applying for an apartment. In such a tight rental market, no one ever picks the 19- and 20-year-old with no rental history and no co-signer regardless of their job situation. In over a year, no one has picked them. They have been living in a van.
What do our young adults do when they can’t find a home? Tahoe Youth and Family Services staff share that the number of kids living in the cars is growing at an alarming rate. And Clean Tahoe has reported about the significantly increased amount of time they spend cleaning up homeless encampments around town in the past few years. It used to be more of a seasonal issue, but now it is year-round.
Then there are the growing number of Craigslist scams typically targeted at young, seasonal workers — but that also manage to dupe local adults as well. The scammer posts pictures of a nice apartment at a reasonable price. After a few email exchanges, “the owner” sends a rental agreement and directions on how to send the down payment. Once the renter sends the down payment, they never hear from “the owner” again. A local single father recently lost not only $5,000 to this scam, but also his existing apartment in the process — as he had already given his 30 days notice that he was moving out.
Horror stories like that, combined with the fact that over the past five years, 15% of resident renters (about 970 renter households) were forced to move because the owner sold the rental, meaning that a significant proportion of our community has been looking for housing and is faced with the reality of a dwindling supply.
The good news is that agencies and employers are joining forces and offering support and solutions. Some, like Tahoe Magic, provide one-time assistance to get people through a difficult period. Others like Tahoe Youth and Family Services are working to provide one year housing assistance for young adults so that they can build up their rental history and save money for a deposit.
For the first time this year, LTCC is master leasing a five-unit apartment building that can house 30 students. Others like Tahoe Prosperity Center and Mountain Housing Council are bringing agencies, businesses and organizations together to make it easy and attractive to build housing that locals can afford. Two upcoming events provide an opportunity for the community to get informed and involved.
On Tuesday, Nov. 12 from either 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. or 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, Tahoe Prosperity Center is holding public open houses to highlight the key takeaways from the recent South Shore Housing Needs Assessment and provide an opportunity for the public to weigh in on next steps.
Everyone is welcome to come learn more about the housing needed in our community, share ideas on how we can provide more homes and improve the condition of existing homes. For information go to: tahoeprosperity.org/housing-tahoe.
On Wednesday, Nov. 13, Tahoe Coalition for the Homeless is hosting “Changing Faces of Housing and Homelessness – Stories That Matter” at the Lake Tahoe Community College from 6-8 p.m. The event will not only highlight the struggles of people in our community facing homelessness and housing insecurity, but also what we, as a community, can do about it. Please join us to hear their stories and view the photo exhibition. Together we can end homelessness on the South Shore of Lake Tahoe. Learn more about the event here: tahoehomeless.org/events/
Rebecca Bryson is the facilitator of Tahoe Prosperity Center’s Housing Tahoe Partnership Outreach Work Group.