The Tahoe Challenge; Paying the rent |

The Tahoe Challenge; Paying the rent

Robert Stern

Affordable housing is a challenge to communities all over California, and as real estate prices escalate dramatically, the hardest hit are low-wage earners.

Lake Tahoe is like many other ski resort communities, especially in the West and Canada where ski resorts are on federal land, which does not allow construction.

The economy is based on tourism, which supplies most of the jobs. But while these businesses may be generating healthy incomes, many who are in the trenches fueling the economy are in substandard or overcrowded living conditions. The supply of housing is decreasing and prices are increasing. Wealthy people, many from the Bay area, are buying second homes that are vacant for most of the year.

“We want to create a community whereby the citizens can afford to live in appropriate housing,” said South Lake Tahoe Councilwoman Brooke Laine. “The two prong approach is creating affordable housing and making sure the housing is not in substandard condition.”

As a result of increasing housing and rental costs, many people who work at Lake Tahoe are moving to bedroom communities such as Gardnerville and Minden, where cost of living is more affordable. But for many who don’t have transportation this is not a viable option.

“We’re not seeing the increase in wages in this area to keep pace with the rising cost of property,” said Patrick Conway, housing and economic development coordinator for the city of South Lake Tahoe.

The cost to purchase a home on the California side of South Shore has increased 30 percent between December and March, said Kathy Southern, a realtor for Aspen Realty. The median cost for the 177 South Shore home listings at the end of March was $300,000. A $3 million home in the Tahoe Keys hits the high end, and a $75,000 condominium in Sierra Tract was the lowest.

Two-bedroom, two bathroom houses that were selling for $150,000 two years ago are now selling for $220,000, Conway said. In that same period two bedroom, one bathroom rental units have increased $100 a month to $650.

Truckee was among the top 10 cities with the highest increase of median home prices between 1999 and 2000, according to the California Association of Realtors.

A family of four who lives in El Dorado County and is making $42,300 a year or less qualify as low income, according to the Federal Housing and Urban Development Department. This means that rent and utilities should be costing no more than $1,057 a month for a family of four. Low-low income is considered to be 50 percent of the median income, or $26,400 for a family of four and $18,500 for a single person.

But these figures are calculated by the federal government and in reality are figures for El Dorado County, Placer County and Sacramento County and do not necessarily address income levels in South Lake Tahoe, Conway said.

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