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Innovative Solutions to Complex Housing Problems

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A tired narrative, and one that all of us in the Truckee/Tahoe region are familiar with: another local family has been displaced and is in desperate need of housing. At this point, it seems as though many of us have simply accepted this kind of situation as our new normal, and see this as an inevitable reality of calling this vacation land home.

We’ve watched businesses limit (and even shut down) their hours due to lack of staffing; we’ve run into contributing members of this community sleeping in their cars; and we’ve seen the endless slew of desperate pleas on Facebook.

So what can we do? And who is going to fix this?

The Mountain Housing Council of Tahoe Truckee was formed to accelerate solutions to the growing problem our region is currently facing. According to the organization’s website, “The Mountain Housing Council of Tahoe Truckee is committed to seeking solutions for this crisis – to find solutions, to connect agencies, businesses and individuals that can get things done, and to make Tahoe/Truckee a place where a healthy, diverse, and thriving community can afford to live.”

And if you’re wondering how bad the problem really is, the numbers below are sure to add some shock factor (quoted from the Mountain Housing Council website):

“Truckee alone has a population of roughly 16,000. The Truckee/North Lake Tahoe Region is closer to 30,000 people combined. On big weekends, those numbers swell to around 100,000.

For those people, there are 33,300 housing units – mostly single family homes built before 1979 – and 65 percent of them are vacant more than half the year.

Of those who are living here full time, 67 percent are paying more than 30 percent of their income (considered overpaying), while 26 percent are paying more than half their income for housing. Within the 474 below-market rate units in the area, zero are available, with waits of six months to two years.” (https://mountainhousingcouncil.org/about/)

On April 28, the council hosted its first annual housing update to report on the progress they had made over the past year and ask the community for their input.

In what became known as the solution slam, members of the community were invited to come on stage and give their best pitches. The ideas were innovative, brilliant, and intriguing. They ranged from tiny housing communities, converting campgrounds into living space, and much more.
My idea, which is now titled the ADU Pathway Program, was to minimize the costs of converting an already existing accessory dwelling unit (ADU) into a legal, rentable unit and create incentives for owners to participate in such a program.

According to the City of Santa Cruz, “An ADU, also known as a mother-in-law or granny unit, is an additional living unit that has separate kitchen, sleeping, and bathroom facilities, attached or detached from the primary residential unit on a single-family lot. ADUs provide housing opportunities through the use of surplus space either in or adjacent to a single-family dwelling. In most cases they are either a garage conversion or a small backyard cottage or guest-house style structure.”

The theory behind the ADU Pathway Program is threefold:

1) Provide an incentive for owners to make their ADUs legal (with the governing entity) by creating a flat permit fee. Many owners already have tenants renting an ADU illegally, and we see a flat permit fee as a win/win to both the owner and the governing entity.

2) Owners participating in the flat fee permit process must rent to a full-time tenant. The governing entity would put a deed restriction on the property stating it could only be used for long-term housing, as opposed to short-term rentals. This creates a true solution to the problem we’re facing.

3) Because many properties in this area already have an illegal ADU in place, the cost to put this program into effect is minimal. We are utilizing the structures already in place, and creating incentives for all parties to participate.

After receiving community input and voting as a group, my idea was selected to receive support from the Mountain Housing Council.

Our main objective is to create an easy-to-follow, step-by-step guideline for property owners who are seeking to legalize their already existing ADU or for owners who want to build a new one.

I’m currently in the process of assembling a team of cohorts, each with a background that offers a unique and dynamic perspective from the rest, who will tackle this head on in the fall.

As we’ve said numerous times, there is no right or one-size-fits-all solution to this problem. It will take creativity, perseverance, and an unwavering commitment to seeing change. I’m confident that we, as a community, can create the change we wish to see, one step at a time.
 

If you are interested in becoming involved, please email amie@tluxp.com.

 
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August 9, 2018