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Our View: Placing the housing pieces

There’s rarely one solution to a problem.

Instead there are different pieces, scattered before us, that need to be placed by the right people.

Nevada County’s housing problem has solutions, as well as its share of obstacles.

It’s too expensive to buy a home here for many people. Folks from outside the county come here, pay cash for a home, and skyrocket past the asking price, pushing locals out. Then there are the second homes that sit empty for much of the year, and those that serve as Airbnbs — essentially, a short-term rental you make online.

Changing the rules for Airbnbs in our county isn’t going to fix our housing issues. But it’s a piece of the solution we can grasp, discuss and do something about.

Right now, in unincorporated Nevada County, an accessory dwelling unit — what the government types call an ADU — can’t be used as an Airbnb. However, that restriction only applies if it was built after 2019. Before then, they’re fair game. And nothing’s stopping someone from turning an entire house into an Airbnb, regardless of when it was built.

This can be an attractive investment for some people, but it doesn’t help those of us looking for a roof over our head.

Short-term rentals became a big enough problem for Truckee that it passed some restrictions on them this year. For one, the number is capped. The town is also phasing out the rentals in ADUs and multi-family housing. Additionally, a new home buyer must wait a full 12 months after buying a home before it can become a short-term rental.

Those regulations might not be right for the county, Grass Valley or Nevada City. But they’re a starting point, a prompt to get us talking.

And if there’s something we need to do, it’s talk more about housing.

Action must follow, otherwise we’re participating in what one former supervisor would call the kabuki of government.

So, let’s throw some ideas against the wall, and see what opens more doors to affordable housing.

The owner of an Airbnb should live on-site. There should be dedicated parking, so additional cars don’t interfere with any residents who rely on street parking. And there should be a cap on the number of Airbnbs someone can operate.

That’s a good point to start the conversation. Where it goes from there is up to supervisors, city councils, and us.

Regulating Airbnbs won’t solve the housing problem, though it might free up some homes for long-term renters. Instead, it’s just one of many steps, a piece of the solution, that we need to address.

Nevada County Supervisor Hardy Bullock has touched on another possible step — safe, secure places where people can park their cars at night. Bullock was talking about van lifers, folks who frequent ski towns both as tourists and local workers, but it’s all part of the same picture. People need places to live. This could help alleviate the problem.

If we demand that the problem must be fixed a certain way, and are unwilling to try different approaches, then we’re preparing to fail.

There are an unwieldy number of aspects to this problem. Do we have enough hotel rooms, and is a perceived lack of them driving people to Airbnbs? Are all Airbnbs on our local governments’ radar, and are they paying the required fees and taxes? What about building more affordable housing? The Cashin’s Field project in Nevada City is a good start, but we need apartments with deed restrictions requiring that a certain percentage of apartments remain affordable.

Taken all at once, it’s too much. It’s overwhelming. But approached piecemeal, or if tasks are divided among different groups, our community just might be able to tackle the larger problem of housing.

Once piece at a time.

The weekly Our View editorial represents the consensus opinion of The Union Editorial Board, a group of editors and writers from The Union, as well as informed community members. Contact the board at EditBoard@TheUnion.com

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