Is a Tahoe Basin regional housing authority the answer to affordable homes?
November 3, 2017
Around the Tahoe Basin, local governments and agencies are seeking solutions to a lack of affordable and workforce housing in their communities — but is there enough regional collaboration among jurisdictions?
At the inaugural Tahoe Economic Summit hosted by the Tahoe Prosperity Center last month, stakeholders from the basin and beyond gathered to discuss a shared economy, entrepreneurship, the workforce and housing.
The lack of a lakewide regional housing authority was a topic of discussion, especially following a presentation by Jennifer Kermode, executive director of Gunnison Valley Regional Housing Authority, a joint effort supported by Gunnison County, the city of Gunnison, the town of Crested Butte and the town of Mt. Crested Butte in Colorado.
Kermode highlighted the programs used in Gunnison County as well as in Summit County, Colo., where she previously worked for the housing authority. In Summit County, they found success with a 0.125 percent sales tax increase and $2.50 per square foot impact fee for new business development to raise funds for workforce housing. In the first nine years, it raised $13.7 million, which was leveraged to construct 350 units of housing. Other programs incentivized short-term rental homes to transition to long-term leases by subsidizing any loss in revenue.
Kermode credited a healthy mix of different programs and initiatives — including land banking — as well as regional collaboration for the progress.
Though individual counties around the basin, including Placer and El Dorado, have housing authorities and Nevada and Sutter counties have joined forces, summit attendees proposed the idea of a larger regional housing authority to aggregate efforts and funding.
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It's an idea that received mixed reviews from the agencies already pushing for affordable and workforce housing in their respective communities.
"There's really no one silver bullet magic agency that's going to fix it all. So we're looking at really what we see as a number of missing partners at the table," said Stacy Caldwell, CEO of Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation, which helped launch the Mountain Housing Council on the North Shore. "There are existing entities already in this region. We have three housing authorities already; we have a couple of different housing trusts and a land trust. We don't have a nonprofit housing corporation, which might be more urgent."
Caldwell noted that although the North Tahoe-Truckee area and South Shore share similar housing issues due to their tourist-based economies, there are enough differences in the jurisdictions to warrant continued separate work — but with sustained communication.
"There are going to be some solutions that make sense for both, and those are where we need to be advocating and going to our policymakers together."
Placer County, which is part of the Mountain Housing Council, agreed.
"For Placer County specifically, while working with our Tahoe Basin partners is key, because a large share of our economic and housing drivers are located outside of the Tahoe Basin, we've determined it's also important to focus there, while remaining engaged in more regional problem-solving around the unique challenges we face in the Tahoe basin," said Jennifer Merchant, deputy county executive officer for Lake Tahoe.
"Tahoe Regional Planning Agency and the Tahoe Prosperity Center participate in the Mountain Housing Council, and there is a similar effort being explored on the South Shore. The Tahoe Prosperity Center is the glue between both efforts to look for efficiencies and learning opportunities."
El Dorado County Supervisor Sue Novasel, who just wrapped up her multi-jurisdiction affordable housing task force, noted that a lakewide housing authority might get complicated.
"We bounced around a lot of ideas, and one of them was a housing authority, an entity that can work for community. Regionally when we talk about a housing authority, it's tough to do the entire region of Lake Tahoe," said Novasel, whose task force determined that the Tahoe Prosperity Center should take the lead on the housing front.
"It's certainly something that I hope the Tahoe Prosperity Center will take on as far as looking at and examining it, but regionally we have different issues on the South Shore compared to the North Shore, Nevada versus California. It gets pretty convoluted there, but I'm hopeful that we can create some sort of area housing authority."
St. Joseph Community Land Trust, a bi-state nonprofit that acquires, develops and manages affordable housing, sees a need for more regional collaboration.
"I've always been in favor of a HOME Consortium that covers the Tahoe Basin," said board president Lyn Barnett.
Through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), contiguous units of local government can form a consortium as a way to open up sources of funding they might not otherwise qualify for. Washoe County, Reno and Sparks currently make up a HOME Consortium.
"I think it's a regional problem and a regional approach is a good idea provided it doesn't add unnecessary bureaucracy," said Barnett. "It has to be something that at the end of the day will put housing units on the ground and help the local community. If it can be a clearing house for funding, collect statistical data, truly represent and understand the housing needs of this community and help organizations like ours, I'm 100 percent in favor of it."