Lack of affordable homes plagues towns |

Lack of affordable homes plagues towns

The story of affordable housing in Truckee and North Tahoe is a tale of two cities – one of success and one of frustration.

And in a housing market that is out of reach for the working class, failures mean more than one fewer housing project. Mountain towns across the West are finding that a lack of affordable housing goes hand in hand with the slow death of a community’s core.

“People will continue to leave and their homes will be bought by second homeowners,” said Alex Mourelatos, a North Tahoe lodge owner and prospective affordable housing developer.

Efforts to build work-force housing aren’t just challenged with stemming a crisis that’s pushing workers from the region, they are also trying to reverse a trend that threatens to tear apart the full-time community.

The failures are seen in shriveling school enrollment and a North Tahoe jury pool that has shrunken to a point that it is hardly serviceable.

The successes are measured by a stable work force, a diverse community – both socially and economically – and vibrant schools.

The North Tahoe-Truckee region has had a taste of both, but housing advocates agree that even the affordable housing successes are having trouble keeping pace with a crunch that has full-time residents, and therefore a community’s work force, leaving for cheaper housing markets.

“What you will see is a declining level of service for the community and its visitors as full-time residents leave and second homeowners move in,” said Mourelatos, assessing North Tahoe’s future if affordable housing is not built.

Mourelatos, who is also on the board of the Workforce Housing Association of Truckee Tahoe, has worked to build an affordable housing development in North Tahoe for the last four years, but so far has been stymied.

Truckee tackles housing

Just north of Tahoe, the Town of Truckee has had a banner year in planning for and building affordable housing.

The string of affordable housing projects either in process or under construction reads long: Stoneridge Townhomes, Spring Creek, Gray’s Crossing employee housing, Gray’s Crossing affordable cottages and Alder Drive affordable housing.

Together they represent hundreds of homes within reach of Truckee workers.

In North Tahoe, despite a need for affordable housing that is just as great, the list of affordable housing coming down the pike resembles a wish list, as none of housing projects, save one, have received approval.

Cedar Grove, which will be renamed and resubmitted to Placer County, and Sandy Beach both have yet to navigate the environmental review process. Sawmill Heights, which sits closer to Truckee than to Kings Beach, is approved and will provide affordable housing for Northstar-at-Tahoe employees.

“I think the [North Shore’s] future without affordable housing is more of what we have right now – the exodus of the full-time population,” said Rachelle Pellissier, executive director of the Workforce Housing Association of Truckee Tahoe.

Some of the workers have not moved far, said Pellissier. She knows of many who have settled into a home in Truckee, and make the commute to North Tahoe to work each day.

“I think that you see that already happening in big numbers,” she said.

The workforce housing association has taken note of what other mountain towns have done to combat their housing crises. Some of the methods have served as a model, others serve as the basis for new ideas.

“You can look at what other communities do and tweak them to your community’s preference,” Pellissier said. “Unfortunately, like clothing, it’s not one size fits all.”

The “will” for workforce housing

Despite the need for housing for the area’s workers, there are still those who oppose affordable housing projects for any number of reasons, Mourelatos said.

“You have resistance whenever you bring up affordable housing because everyone wants it but no one wants it in their backyard,” he said.

Mourelatos’ affordable housing proposal, which was called Cedar Grove, was put on hold earlier this year after delays led to increased planning and construction projections. The proposal has received mixed reviews from the North Tahoe community.

In Truckee, affordable housing projects have also had their naysayers, but the critics have not kept the town from approving hundreds of low- and moderate-income units.

“In Truckee you have the political will to get this done and in Placer County the political will is not there yet,” said Pellissier, noting that the incorporated Town of Truckee has a much easier path to providing affordable housing than North Tahoe, which sits in unincorporated eastern Placer County.

One example of Placer County’s hesitancy to aggressively tackle workforce housing are two affordable housing ordinances – into their sixth iteration – that remain stalled on the desks of county planners.

An inclusionary housing ordinance, which would require residential developers to include a percentage of affordable units in each of their projects, has been discussed but is still “on hold,” said Ann Baker of Placer County’s planning department. A workforce housing ordinance, which would require projects to house a portion of the workers generated by the development, is also unadopted.

“This has gone on a lot longer than the county has wanted,” Baker said. “Everybody seems to be kind of on a different page.”

Meanwhile, the Town of Truckee has adopted both an inclusionary housing ordinance and an employee housing ordinance in its state-required housing document.

North Shore hurdles

Affordable housing advocates agree that a community’s support for affordable housing is one of the biggest factors determining whether projects are built or whether they die in the approval process.

But in North Tahoe – with Tahoe Regional Planning Agency restrictions, scarce land and high construction costs – the process to build affordable housing has many opportunities to fail.

“There is not just one thing that you can point to and say ‘this is why it is not getting done,'” said Pellissier. “There are a lot of reasons.”

While Truckee’s decision makers are in town, most of Placer County’s are stationed 80 miles away in Auburn.

“All government around the lake is not at the lake,” said Pellissier.

On Pellissier’s wish list of affordable housing enablers is a streamlined process within Placer County and the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency for workforce housing projects.

In the North Shore, where new construction is much slower than the pace of building in Truckee, the community needs to look at redevelopment and motel conversion in addition to new building to meet the housing need, said Pellissier.

“Sometimes the need is so great you need to address it in both fashions,” she said.

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