Tahoe groups working to turn VHRs into long-term housing


SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — With 2021 right around the corner, vacation home rental owners outside of the tourist core must decide what to do with their properties due to Measure T and some groups in South Lake Tahoe are hoping to use those properties to make a dent in the housing crisis.

Attempts to kill Measure T, that was approved by voters in November 2018, in court have widely failed, so once a VHR permit is up in 2021, owners outside the tourist core can’t renew it.

According to Tahoe Prosperity Center’s housing plan, the city needs over 3,000 housing units to fill the need in South Lake. Measure T will open up many homes that are above the prevailing market price which is $400,000.

“Ultimately, vacation rentals only make up 5% of the housing market so not even if every single one of them were suddenly rented 100% to local renters at an affordable rent (not market rent), it is still just a drop in the bucket. And that scenario is not likely,” said TPC CEO Heidi Hill Drum.

She went on to say that many of those homes will likely be used as second homes or sold to people who will likely use them as second homes.

Mayor Tamara Wallace hopes some people in the community will upgrade into those larger homes once they go on the market, opening up some affordable housing but she admits that is still not a solution to the housing problem.

Fortunately, several groups are mobilizing to turn some of those VHRs into affordable long-term rentals.

Landing Locals

Landing Locals started in North Tahoe and Truckee as a hub for renters and rentees to connect. Their goal is to find homes that are vacant the majority of the year and work with the owners to turn those into affordable long-term rentals.

“Our target type of house are homes with [additional dwellings units], people who only use their home sporadically and under-performing short-term rentals,” said Landing Locals CEO Colin Frolich.

In November, Landing Locals partnered with the Town of Truckee to launch a pilot incentives program. The town will give property owners up to $3,000 to rent their homes to local employees. Landing Locals will provide tenant screening and matching to make sure property owners are getting the best tenants for their properties.

Frolich said the grant is meant to offset losses from providing affordable rent or from non-usage.

Landing Locals has been in talks with South Lake Tahoe City Manager Joe Irvin and new city council member John Friedrich about launching a similar program in South Lake.

Over the summer, Landing Locals expanded into South Lake and has put in public records requests to find out who is losing their VHR permits. Their goal is to reach out to owners and property managers and convince them to rent to locals.

“We’re trying to use the carrot not the stick,” Frolich said.

Frolich also hopes the city will contribute by flagging and reaching out to permit holders who are in danger of losing their permits.

Landing Locals’ ultimate goal is to become a basin-wide go-to resource for long-term rentals and renters.

“If we do this well, we hope it will be a great resource,” Frolich said.

TAHOE Program

St. Joseph’s Community Land Trust has been working on the affordable housing problem for many years, helping the city build new affordable units.

However, there is limited space to build in South Lake, so they’ve created the TAHOE (Tahoe affordable home ownership enabling) Program.

“The program was created to deal with existing homes that go on the market,” said Jean Diaz, St. Joseph’s executive director.

There are a few ways this program can help the housing problem. It provides funds to low to moderate income residents to buy an existing home. The home would then go into the St. Joseph’s portfolio which allows them to ensure the home stays as an affordable housing unit even when it’s sold and that the property stays in good condition. It also ensures the property is used as a primary residence.

Homeowners are required to take a home-ownership class before purchasing properties to make sure they know what they are getting into and what’s required of them. St. Joseph’s can also provide financial assistance to existing low/moderate income homeowners that are at risk of losing their homes.

Diaz thinks some of the houses losing their VHR permits might find their way into the program.

But prior to the houses joining the community land trust portfolio, the homes are in danger of being purchased by non locals.

“We’re looking for brokers, lenders and escrow agents who agree with the mission,” Diaz said.

That is the mission of finding homes for locals.

They are starting to do outreach to those people so they are aware of the program.

Tahoe Home Connections

Tahoe Home Connections is a local non-profit that reaches out to second homeowners to turn their homes into long-term rentals.

In 2019, TaHoCo sent out a survey to 8,000 second homeowners. They received 319 responses that they would be interested. Forty-six homes were onboarded immediately.

The majority of the people who responded said they’d be interested if the tenants were pre-qualified or if the lease went through an employer rather than an employee.

The homes can be rented for three to six months or a year. This allows seasonal workers to find housing but homeowners can still use their home for part of the year.

A report from TaHoCo said, “From June-December 2019, five Tahoe Home Connection volunteers spent approximately 40 hours each, for a total of 200 hours of work, to place six families in six homes that were formerly or are still used as second homes.”

There are currently 13 people either individuals or families looking for housing as of the end of September 2020 and three available properties.

TaHoCo Vice President Amanda Ross said she hopes Measure T will open up some new opportunities and will be sending direct mailers to those homeowners in January.

“Our main goal is affordable housing, we’re not in it for the money,” Ross said.

None of these solutions are the silver bullet to solve the housing issue, but all of them can make a difference. COVID has also shown the instability in short-term rentals so turning homes into long-term rentals could be financially beneficial for the home owners.

“My understanding from our housing work group meetings is that generally, a home rented year-round to a local resident earns more income than a short term rental,” Hill Drum said.

The city has been working with all three organizations on ways the city can help and Friedrich requested staff bring some possible solutions and partnerships to the Jan. 5 council meeting.

Wallace also said she encourages anyone with an idea to approach the city.

For the homes that don’t become long-term rentals, Hill Drum hopes they will help the city in a different way.

“Hopefully those owners will move here permanently now that folks can work remotely,” Hill Drum said.

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