Balancing Needs of All Stakeholders, MHC Unveils Regional Housing Implementation Plan

PUBLISHED MAY 19, 2021 12:00 A.M.
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Participants in a recent board meeting of the Mountain Housing Council of Tahoe Truckee discuss affordable housing in the wake of a pandemic-fueled boom in real estate prices.

Participants in a recent board meeting of the Mountain Housing Council of Tahoe Truckee discuss affordable housing in the wake of a pandemic-fueled boom in real estate prices.   Mountain Housing Council

John Falk has been involved in housing policy for Truckee and North Tahoe for decades. 

It’s why his comments during a recent board meeting of a housing advocacy group carry a degree of resonance. 

“I know a high school science teacher who is living out of a hotel right now and he will be leaving the area at the end of the school year,” Falk said. “We are going to see the quality of our workforce degrade to the point where it is going to degrade the quality of life here unless we deal with it.”

Falk said he has heard numerous anecdotes from members of the Truckee-Tahoe community involving police departments, fire departments and school districts, where individuals accept employment only to rescind the offer after they are unable to find a place to live. 

“It’s difficult to impossible to attract and retain people right now,” he said. 

Falk gave his comments during an April 23 meeting of the Mountain Housing Council (MHC), a consortium of 28 organizations—public, nonprofit, and private—that have joined together to address the persistent affordability problems that plague the region.

“We are looking at housing from a regional level,” said attendee Stacy Caldwell, who is CEO of the Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation, which leads the Mountain Housing Council. “We are focused not only on low-income users, but also housing solutions that work for the middle class.” 

Caldwell is also eager to create something that isn’t just language repackaged from each of the so-called “housing elements” in the planning documents produced by the disparate decision-making jurisdictions in the region. 

“Some of the regional housing action plans are already in the housing elements—the programs and policies that drive housing in each jurisdiction,” Caldwell said. “We didn’t just want to glean those and put them back out there.”

That focus on a holistic approach dovetails with the concerns expressed by Falk: that middle-class workers upon whom communities depend—including police officers, firefighters, teachers, and workers in the service sector—have been priced out of the area. 

These concerns have been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, which turned the Truckee-Tahoe housing market into one of the hottest in the entire world, let alone the region. 

The Pandemic Skyrocket

The housing market was up 23 percent year over year in quarter one of 2021, according to a Redfin analysis. About $1 billion was poured into the Truckee market for single-family homes alone in 2020, according to statistics provided by Chase International. It represented an 81 percent increase from 2019. 

The median sales price jumped 15 percent from 2019 to about $869,000 for 2020 in Truckee. Rents in the region have also soared since the advent of the pandemic last March. 

While the abrupt and near-total shift to remote work precipitated by the pandemic may be temporary, the Mountain Housing Council points out that the problems with finding affordable housing for low- and middle-income workers in the region precedes the recent boom. 

According to MHC, a key part of the problem is the low inventory in the region, as the relatively low supply drives up prices as demand increases. So, the council says, the solution is to build more housing and make housing denser while preserving the natural environment that is the most precious asset the region possesses. 

“We need to drive the right kind of housing,” said Tara Zurado, the Mountain Housing Council’s project coordinator. “Sustainable housing and supportive housing for a variety of income levels.”

Friday’s agenda included the unveiling of the Regional Housing Implementation Plan, which seeks to coordinate between developers, regulatory agencies in the region and general community members. 

“The question is how do you truly create a way for there to be an all-systems-go for housing in a region,” Caldwell said. “As we try to attract financial resources to this region, we need to have readiness and buy-in within all these areas.”

For developers, MHC wants to help them hone their vision. For regulatory agencies, particularly given the fragmented jurisdictions in and around the Tahoe Basin, the consortium wants to work to align regulatory frameworks with an eye toward facilitating housing. And for the community, MHC is eager to interact with all residents and commuters to understand how to orient housing toward their needs.

Roughly 5,000 Units Needed 

The Mountain Housing Council has identified three sites within the region that it hopes will serve as pilot projects to align the three constituent groups and ultimately achieve an increase in housing. While the council is not ready to share specifics regarding the three sites, Ashleigh Kanat said there is one in the town of Truckee, another in unincorporated Placer County, and another in unincorporated Nevada County.

Kanat, who is a principal at Economic Planning Systems, has been tasked by MHC with setting up the AHA process, which stands for Achievable Housing for All. 

The process is aimed at establishing technical services for property developers looking to build workforce housing along with building a process for community input to meet needs of the greater community. 

“We are beta testing this AHA process,” said Kanat. “We are hoping it can serve as the foundation for the next decade of work for the Mountain Housing Council.”

The council plans to reveal the exact locations in the coming months but does not want to interfere in negotiations between landowners and jurisdictions at this point in the process. 

During Friday’s meeting, Jake Cranor of Economic Planning Systems provided an update to the 2016 Workforce Housing Needs Assessment, which was produced to ascertain whether the current housing inventory is sufficient to accommodate commuters who want to move the region, seasonal workers, and other constituents. 

One notable finding is that the Truckee-Tahoe region is short of adequate housing for its workforce by about 4,700 units, most of which could be one- or two-bedroom units. But if the region were to also accommodate commuters from more affordable areas like Reno or the California foothills, it would have to build about 5,500 more units to fully accommodate those workers as well, according to the preliminary data. 

The consultants have yet to update their information on seasonal workers and their needs, nor have they detailed requirements to shelter the region’s homeless population, meaning the update to the data remains preliminary and incomplete. 

Diverse Voices

The remote meeting featured several participants from various stakeholder groups around the region. While the format seemed to have made participants reluctant to engage in the question-and-answer session immediately following the discussion, Falk’s comments about the degradation in local quality of life as a result of the housing crisis sparked a robust conversation among meeting participants. 

Steve Frisch, president of the Sierra Business Council, talked about infill, while Caldwell discussed the potential housing composition of the pilot projects that MHC is currently contemplating. 

Other participants pointed out that a mobile home park in Kings Beach is in the process of being converted to higher-end housing, noting that preservation of existing affordable housing is just as important as the creation of new units. 

Zurado said that some 250 units of affordable housing are scheduled to come online with new developments like Coldstream Commons and Frischman Hollow apartments. Coldstream Commons, located adjacent to Donner State Park, will add 48 affordable housing unites while Frishman Hollow looks to add 32 units.

While the addition of these units is likely to assuage some of the pressure in the near term, it falls well short of what is needed to accommodate the region’s burgeoning workforce, according to the preliminary update to the needs assessment. 

Many of the meeting’s attendees brought up current developments that are stalled at various stages of the regulatory approval process, saying the needs assessment should also incorporate that data. 

“We need to figure out what are the barriers,” said Caldwell. “Is it money? We need to take data about the stuck projects and categorize them and bring it back to the council.”

The Mountain Housing Council also conducted a survey to better provide a more accurate update to the needs assessment. 

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