Property owners slow redevelopment
The battle against blight has begun with the push for redevelopment projects in the city of South Lake Tahoe, but property owners aren’t joining in the efforts.
Almost 40 percent of the city’s 13,404 housing units received a substandard rating, a 1993 study showed. Of those units examined, 161 were deemed dilapidated or in serious disrepair.
Conducted by the Rural California Housing Corporation, the study examined the exterior conditions of single-family dwellings and multifamily units and apartments in the city limits.
Points were given on the condition of the unit’s foundation, roofing, siding, windows and doors. Based on the ratings, the 5,170 units in the substandard category were further defined as minor, moderate, substantial and dilapidated.
Patrick Conway, the city’s housing and economic development coordinator, said the numbers are fairly high for a small community such as South Lake Tahoe.
“There are two factors that contribute to that: The weather – you’re in a constant environment of freeze and thaw here, and that’s tough on materials. Also, there is a high level of absentee ownership in the community.”
The 2,221 units with a minor rating indicate that the structure appears sound but is in need of maintenance such as exterior painting or foundation repair. The moderate rating given to 2,532 city units indicates need for major repair or replacement such as the roof or siding. The 256 units rated as substantial calls for replacement of several major materials such as siding and a roof. Just 1 percent, or 161 units, of the housing in the city was considered dilapidated or not cost effective to bring to code.
The study has sparked concern in city officials who want to change those numbers.
“It’s an important issue,” Councilman Bill Crawford said. “We’ve got high rent, run-down properties and crowded conditions – that’s the definition of a slum and we fit the bill.”
Consequences await property owners who have slacked on maintenance.
Kevin Gattis, a building inspector for the city, said most the complaints he gets come from disgruntled tenants.
Leaky roofs, dripping faucets and dangerous electrical wiring are common causes of complaints. Filth also triggers an inspection.
“I’ve been in some places that I didn’t want to go into at all,” he said. “Sometimes it isn’t the owner’s fault, it’s the tenants who choose to live in such a way.”
Unsanitary conditions prompt a call to the El Dorado County Health Department, Gattis said. Safety concerns are dealt with at the city level.
“We use the Uniform Housing Code in addition to building codes, and they’re very specific,” Gattis said. “We’re after compliance, our concern is to get the problem fixed.”
In most cases, property owners are given 30 days to bring the structure to code. If they fail to meet the deadline, say on an order to fix faulty plumbing, the water can be turned off.
Other problems are more urgent, requiring an immediate fix.
“If there’s a gaping hole in a roof and water is gushing in, that needs to be fixed right away,” Gattis said. “The structures are required to be water tight, if they’re not, we’ll act upon it.”
But action is prompted only by compliant. The city doesn’t pursue cases on its own.
Councilwoman Brooke Laine said it’s not the legal framework but the lack of enforcement that is stopping the city from seeking out noncompliant landlords.
“We have the ordinances in place,” Laine said. “But at the same time we don’t have the money for the enforcement.”
Councilmembers Laine and Crawford serve on a city subcommittee on substandard housing. Laine said safety is the subcommittee’s focus.
“We have a lot of landlords who aren’t putting money back into their property and in many of these cases they live (off the hill), so they don’t deal with it,” Laine said. “The urgency is not how nice it looks, it’s making sure people have safe homes.”
The subcommittee studied an enforcement model in Sacramento that uses a task force of building inspectors, fire department personnel and police officers who inspect and enforce city building code ordinances.
“There are two things that have to be done if the city wants to improve some of the multifamily properties that are substandard,” Crawford said. “That task force has to be created and the ordinances have to be enforced but you have to assign the money to fund the activities.”
But forcing better housing conditions could put the city in an affordable housing crunch, Conway said.
“You want to have a community that has nice housing,” Conway said “But you also want it to be affordable so that the service workers in our community can afford to live here.”
Conway said affordable housing is measured in relation to 30 percent of a person’s income. He used the Bay Area as an example of where the rents and property values have climbed so high that service workers in the area can’t afford to reside in the community where their job is.
“And that’s the direction were headed,” he said. “I think you’re going to see the markets change, property values are going to increase and the overall availability of affordable housing will decline.”
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