SEDUs could be an option for affordable housing at Tahoe (Opinion)
Lake Tahoe is a stunningly beautiful area, but like many other tourist destinations, it faces the challenge of providing affordable housing for its workforce. With limited land resources and increasing demand, the cost of housing continues to rise, making it difficult for low-income individuals and families to access decent, safe, and affordable housing.
This is where small efficiency dwelling units and congregate housing could come in as an environmentally sensitive solution to affordable housing issues in Lake Tahoe.
SEDUs and congregate housing are designed to be compact and energy-efficient, making them an excellent option for Lake Tahoe’s workforce. By building these units in transit and bike friendly areas, we can reduce the need for new development on undeveloped land, and reduce the environmental impact of development in the Tahoe Basin.
Traditional tax-subsidized affordable housing projects like Sugar Pine Village have their place, but they cost 2-3 times private market solutions and take years to complete. They will never meet the demand, and are far more efficient at creating consulting and tax credit analyst positions than affordable housing units.
A combination of city, county, and TRPA regulations (though well-intentioned) make SEDU’s and congregate housing uneconomic or impossible to build. Land coverage restrictions, required parking minimums, lot line clearances, long permitting timelines, high fees on new development and low density zoning all conspire to ensure that the only new housing in the basin are large single family houses (primarily used as vacation houses), which are inherently environmentally wasteful.
If South Lake Tahoe and the surrounding areas were serious about development of affordable housing for the local workforce, a combination of regulatory relief from the city (zoning, parking, lot line clearance, density regulations), county (tax abatement on improvements for inherently affordable projects), and TRPA (waiver of land coverage requirements and streamlined approvals) could create conditions where the private market could and would develop a significant amount of supply to help meet the demand for affordable housing.
In conclusion, SEDU’s and congregate housing offer an innovative and market-based approach to affordable housing development in Lake Tahoe. They provide an environmentally sensitive and efficient solution to the affordable housing crisis, while also offering an equitable housing option for Lake Tahoe’s workforce. While the region can and should pursue government-subsidized projects like Sugar Pine Village, they should take an “all-of-the-above” approach and provide regulatory relief to developers for new market rate workforce housing.
Seth Dallob is COO of NexGen Housing Partners, a market workforce housing developer and manager of more than 500 units in metro Seattle. He moved to South Lake Tahoe with his wife in early 2022. They say the average rent for their units is around $1,200/month.
Editor’s note: Small efficiency dwelling units is not something we have heard of at the Tribune, so in verifying information in the column, we reached out to the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency and their planners had never heard of them either, but were intrigued. Public Information Officer Jeff Cowen said the agency is bringing forward policy amendments this year that meet most of the conditions the author points out.
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