Whereas pure magnificence, way of life and recreation make Tahoe an awesome place to dwell, housing stays a priority | South Lake Tahoe

0
57

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – Many say those who live in the communities around Lake Tahoe live in heaven. In fact, it was Mark Twain who said of Tahoe in 1872, “The air up there in the clouds is very pure and fine, bracing and delicious. And why shouldn’t it be?–it is the same the angels breathe.”

The number of people calling South Lake Tahoe home hasn’t changed much over the last five decades though the population has been on a steady increase since 2012. South Lake Tahoe became a city in 1965, about 20 years after gambling became a draw for people from around the country, and five years after the first televised Winter Olympics. The population grew 60 percent between 1970 and 1980 when the census showed 20,681 people lived in the city limits. Since then, the census shows the full-time population has remained between 21,000 to 23,000 with a small decline after the 2008 recession. In the 2020 Census, 21,330 called South Lake Tahoe home. Since the census count ended in October of 2020, the new figure includes some of the new residents who found mountain living during the beginning of the pandemic.

In the El Dorado County portion of the Lake Tahoe Basin, there are currently 19,561 housing units, up 11 percent from 17,419 ten years ago according to the County tax assessor’s office. Single-family homes are 18,062, multi-family units 1,226, manufactured homes 273.

So, why all of a sudden is there a shortage of affordable and workforce housing when the population has remained essentially the same?

Just as there is no single remedy, there is no single reason, and it turns out it isn’t “all of a sudden.”

One can look at two main events that pushed the situation to the forefront: The recession and the pandemic that came with a workforce that could live wherever they wanted and work remotely.

In 2008, the recession brought about job loss in the resort community and a subsequent drop of school-age children. Homes were affordable for those looking to buy a second home at Tahoe, not as affordable for a workforce highly concentrated in the gaming, lodging, and foodservice industries. They weren’t as poised to afford the homes that were selling “like hotcakes,” but a large group of people living and working outside the area were, and many paid cash for the homes. Some locals were able to purchase, so it wasn’t all buyers from out of town, said Heidi Hill Drum, CEO of the Tahoe Prosperity Center.

“In general, housing costs in the region always outpace the local median wage,” said Hill Drum. “Investors also clearly took advantage of the market at that time and bought many of the homes for sale back then. It is also when short-term rental platforms started to take off as well.”

When voters passed Measure T in South Lake Tahoe in 2018, some of those second homes were sold once permits expired in 2020 since they could no longer be rented out short-term, and rather than rent out long-term the owners sold. The results of Measure T are still being investigated and there is no data yet available as to what the homeowners are doing with their second homes. The county portion of the South Shore in both states still allows short-term vacation rentals though there is a cap.

Again the local workforce was unpoised to purchase.

Then enter the pandemic and remote workers found they could live in Lake Tahoe for much less than the Bay Area, and they bought up the homes that once again were “selling like hotcakes” but for much more than what they were in 2008 and out of reach of the average employee in Lake Tahoe.

This “zoom town” phenomenon did not happen just around Lake Tahoe.

“This isn’t unique to Tahoe though as virtually every high amenity resort community has experienced large price increases,” said Chase Janvrin, program manager at Tahoe Prosperity Center.

There has been an 11 percent increase in the number of housing units built in El Dorado County from 17,419 in 2012 to 19,561 in 2022.

Of the 19,561 housing units, 13,112 are single-family residences, 1,057 multi-family units, and 193 manufactured homes are currently non-owner occupied, which means they are rented out full- or part-time, according to tax records. Non-owner-occupied homes in the county portion of the south shore of (Meyers, Tahoma) have dropped 0.9 percent in the last ten years, 11 percent in the City of South Lake Tahoe. There has been a rise of 29.5 percent of owner-occupied single-family residences in the City limits, 15.6 percent in the County.

Rents have skyrocketed for a large portion of the population that cannot afford it, just as they are not only in communities around Lake Tahoe but also around the country. If a home becomes available for rent it is rarely affordable for the majority of residents seeking housing.

Survey of Those Who Call Tahoe Home

The Tahoe Prosperity Center just released the “Community Report for the Tahoe Region.” This report includes the results of a region-wide community opinion survey conducted in January 2022 to gauge opinions from residents about living and working in and around Tahoe. 1,800 people responded to the survey.

What does it tell us?

Tahoe residents – regardless of where they live in the region or their individual situations – are unified in their concern that housing, traffic congestion, and other visitor impacts pose the biggest threats to the quality of life in the Tahoe Basin.

Unsurprisingly, in the wake of the Caldor Fire, residents also rank wildfires and smoke as among the most significant threats to the Tahoe Region as a whole. And there is a strong consensus across Tahoe over which efforts should be given priority to maintain or improve the quality of
life for residents and workers.

The key findings in the report:

Natural Beauty, Lifestyle and Recreation Make Tahoe a great place to live: Strong majorities of residents cite Tahoe’s natural beauty (75 percent), its outdoor mountain lifestyle (61 percent), and unique access to outdoor recreation (58 percent) as the most important factors that make Tahoe special. Smaller percentages cited the sense of community, education, job opportunities, social/cultural opportunities, and resorts as the most important factor.

Tahoe is on the Wrong Track: 63 percent believe that things in the Tahoe Region are “on the wrong track.” Just 1 in 5 believe things are on the right track.

One-Quarter of People Struggle to Make Ends Meet: 76 percent of respondents say they are able to live in “reasonable comfort” in Tahoe, including those who work for a Tahoe-based employer, don’t work, or are self-employed. The remaining 24 percent said they can barely make ends meet but don’t want to move, must work two or more jobs, or cannot afford to stay in Tahoe and plan to leave.

Lack of Housing, Traffic, Smoke and Vacation Rentals Threaten Quality of Life: 73 percent of respondents said that lack of stable housing options for workers is the most significant threat to the quality of life in the Tahoe region. From a list of 18 threats, a majority of respondents also selected traffic and lack of transportation options, wildfires and smoke, and too many vacation rentals/second homes as among the most significant threats. Significant numbers also pointed to disrespectful attitudes among tourists and a lack of economic diversity.

Solutions Should Prioritize Housing, Tourism Fees, Transportation, and Restrictions on Second Homeownership: 79 percent of respondents said that expanding economical housing opportunities for workers should be a “very high” or “high” priority. 75 percent said priority should be on imposing public access fees on tourists to pay for investments in the environment, transportation, and community services. A strong majority of respondents also said “very high” or “high” priority should be placed on developing transportation options/reducing congestion, imposing restrictions on second homeowners and short-term rentals, investing in education, expanding family services, improving broadband/cellular infrastructure, and diversifying housing to include higher density options.

“The findings of this new report identify the same housing, traffic, and economic disparity issues that Tahoe residents have been struggling with and discussing for years, which is not surprising,” said Heidi Hill Drum. “What is surprising is that updated Census data signals that our economic and housing challenges are persistent and becoming more urgent.”

Housing Projects and Programs

There are workforce and affordable housing projects in the works in South Lake Tahoe, as well as some programs to encourage renting second homes to full-time residents, all the result of private-public partnerships, and agency cooperation.

The 248-unit Sugar Pine Village is being built on land that was owned by the California Tahoe Conservancy, and deed-restricted homes with St. Joseph Land Trust are being built on land that was owned by the City are two of the newer housing projects that should be available in 2023. The Land Trust also financially assists families trying to move out of motels into apartments.

Lease to Locals, a new program in South Lake Tahoe, is a pilot incentive program that connects property owners to locals seeking long-term rentals. Homeowners will be reimbursed up to $2,000 per bedroom after a one-year contract with renters is completed.

As the community faces a critical shortage of workforce housing, the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, the City of South Lake Tahoe, and El Dorado County have joined Placer County on the north to create new ordinances and codes that will allow accessible dwelling units and moveable tiny homes on properties at Lake Tahoe.

Colorado

Since the Lake Tahoe region is a lot like mountain communities in Colorado, a look at what is happening there could help Tahoe. Colorado communities are turning to innovations, like lease limits and new taxes, to confront a housing shortage worsened by remote workers and second-home owners, according to a recent story that ran on NBC News.

Ski resort workers are sleeping in campers or their cars or traveling over 100 miles through snowy mountain passes to get to their jobs.

“With the pandemic affecting people and institutions across the U.S. in countless ways, housing has become an inflection point for cities struggling to retain their workforces and local businesses. The issue has long been a challenge in Colorado’s mountain communities, but the pandemic has pushed it into overdrive, residents, and experts say,” said Daliah Singer of NBC in her story.

The Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority (APCHA) was at the forefront of creating affordable housing for the area resort workers. It was my uncle Harry Truscott who saw the need during his time on the Snowmass Planning Commission in the 1970s. He was a proponent for responsible development and was the founder of the Aspen Housing Authority, culminating in the building of several housing projects specifically for that purpose, among them Truscott Place, Truscott Phase 1 and Phase 2.

Not every community benefited from someone with that foresight and is now struggling to put housing options in place for workers. Some have housing authorities that have been buying or converting properties that are then sold at below-market rates, providing down payment or rental assistance to local buyers, placing deed restrictions on properties, and cash incentives like the South Lake Tahoe Lease to Locals program.

Other innovative ways are being considered in many areas, not just Colorado, including extra taxes on homes that are left vacant.

South Lake Tahoe

Since South Lake Tahoe had many aging motels and people turned to them for affordable housing, some have been upgraded to fall under the City’s Single Room Occupancy (SRO) program that creates a safer place to live longer-term. The City also created the Multi-Family Dwelling (MFD) Inspection Program meant to identify blighted and deteriorated housing stock and provide for the rehabilitation of housing that does not meet minimum building, housing, and property maintenance code standards.

Current affordable housing apartments:

The Aspens at South Lake Tahoe – 47 units of family affordable housing for low- and very low-income households
Evergreen Apartments – 26 units of family affordable housing for low- and very low-income households
Kelly Ridge – 32 units of affordable senior housing for very low-income persons 62 years and older
Sierra Garden Apartments – 75 units of family affordable housing for low- and very low-income persons
Sky Forest Acres – 18-unit housing project for very low-income persons with disabilities
Tahoe Pines Apartments – 28 units of family affordable housing for low- and very low-income persons
Tahoe Senior Plaza – 44 units of senior housing for very low-income persons 62 years and older
Tahoe Valley Townhomes – 70 units of family housing for low- and very low-income persons

On the Nevada side of the South Shore, Douglas County has the following places for affordable housing:

Lake Vista I, II & Meadowbrook are affordable apartment communities in Stateline, Nev.