Affordable housing runs gamut in Tahoe-Truckee

Housing, while it may be affordable, isn’t always ideal. Photo/Heidi Hill Drum

Publisher’s note: This is one in a series of stories about affordable housing in the Lake Tahoe-Truckee region. All articles may be accessed via the home page under Special Projects, 2017 Affordable Housing.

By Linda Fine Conaboy

Few things are more important than a roof over our heads—preferably one that doesn’t leak.

But as the price of housing, especially affordable workforce housing, continues to escalate within the Tahoe basin and Truckee, many are finding it more and more difficult to obtain a suitable place to live. According to research, this problem is having an affect not only locally, but also nationwide, especially for those on the lower end of the income scale.

In an attempt to make sense of the local housing scene, Lake Tahoe News talked to local area experts to try to quantify the extent of the situation, which continues to spiral out of control. Communities around Lake Tahoe and the town of Truckee are all feeling the economic pinch that a lack of accessible housing brings.

Workers find themselves burdened not only by not having places to live near their jobs, but also, because many must commute miles and miles just to get to work, they must dig deeper to afford the high price of transportation costs.

As an example, one family consisting of mom and dad who work in Truckee, and three kids who attend Truckee schools, now commutes every day to work and to school from Reno, where they were lucky enough to find a home to suit their paychecks.

Their story is not atypical—many individuals and families around the lake are struggling, some even to a much greater degree.

Affordable housing. Workforce housing. Low-income housing. Section 8, below market rate, deed restricted and extremely low-income are a few of the names used to indicate various income groupings.

An example of an affordable housing project in Kings Beach. Photo/DOMUS Development

What do these classifications mean? A brief summary is in order before we can even begin to take a look at what housing is available within the assorted categories.

·      Affordable housing: Under federal statutes, housing is considered affordable when it requires the dedication of no more than 30 percent of gross household income, including rent or mortgage payments, utilities, taxes and insurance, homeowner’s association fees and other related costs.

·      Area median income: The median household income for an area. Usually household size is considered when designating this term.

·      Below market rate housing: Refers to properties that are leased or sold at prices that are below the current market value.

·      Deed restriction: A requirement recorded at the sale of the property that ties the current or future owners to the specific use of the property.

·      Extremely low-income: This grouping includes those with annual incomes that are equal to 30 percent or less of the area median income of an area.

·      Workforce housing: Targeted to be accessible to households that include members of the local workforce. However, the income levels targeted for workforce housing are often limited to those who do not otherwise qualify for subsidized rental or for-sale housing, but who may still have a hard time affording market-rate housing.

·      Subsidized housing: Housing that utilizes some sort of rental assistance. For example, housing where all or a portion of the monthly housing costs are paid directly by the government. A good example of this is Section 8 housing where a renter pays only a portion of the rent determined by the household’s income.

An article from the website,, written by Lisa Johnson Mandell, stated that unfortunately, being eligible for affordable housing doesn’t mean you will actually get the help you need. Under current funding levels, affordable housing programs can assist only approximately 4.8 million low-income families—that’s about 1 in 4 eligible households, and the waiting lists in some communities are extremely long. Cities such as Los Angeles have an estimated waiting list of more than 10 years.

Research also shows that the situation around Lake Tahoe is not as extreme; however, there are waiting lists in some locales as long as four years.

It is important to note that 1) there is a housing crisis at Lake Tahoe and Truckee, and 2) this is not a new crisis. However, it is also important to note that this near-catastrophe has come to the fore and is being addressed by civic and community leaders.

For example, Heidi Hill Drum, the CEO of Tahoe Prosperity Center, said, “It is difficult to build affordable housing in the Lake Tahoe region because the projects often don’t pencil for a developer. Most affordable housing projects that have been completed were done when the state of California had redevelopment funds. Those funds are no longer available and local government jurisdictions do not have many options to bridge that gap.”

DeDe Cordell, Placer County’s director of public affairs and communications, concurred with Drum, also noting the demise of California’s redevelopment agencies.

A document highlighting the history of RDAs in California says the death of this government-based entity will surely reduce the number of new affordable housing developments in the foreseeable future.

This forecast is now coming to fruition, and as the document says, no approved measures currently allow for an equivalent statewide set-aside fund exclusively for providing future affordable housing after all existing obligations are met by other agencies.

Affordable housing is a high priority for Placer County, Cordell told Lake Tahoe News. “We are looking at a lot of different possibilities to determine the best approaches to tackling this challenge. It’s a challenge countywide (Placer County encompasses not only Auburn, but also Tahoe City, Kings Beach and Tahoe Vista), but it’s especially challenging at Tahoe because it’s such a tourism/service-based economy, and with so many people opting to use their homes as short-term vacation rentals, it’s significantly reduced the available housing stock, making the problem that much worse. We are even considering ways to encourage/incentivize owners to rent their properties seasonally or long-term to create additional housing stock that can be affordable to people in a variety of income levels.”

A report (The Regional Housing Study) from the Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation backs up Cordell’s statements. In fact, the report says, 65 percent of the homes at Tahoe and Truckee sit vacant most of the year because they are vacation houses. Consequently, in order to stay close to their workplace, locals spend a huge chunk of their incomes on housing, some of it without adequate space or heating.

And from Drum, “There are some federal programs that help subsidize building affordable housing projects, but without local government funding, they often aren’t enough. And given how expensive land is at Lake Tahoe, it makes it even more challenging here. Add to that the additional regulations we have due to our environmental protections, Tahoe is a challenging place to build any housing in the affordable and mid-ranges.”

TTCF’s Regional Housing Study’s further examination of housing within the Tahoe basin, including Truckee, reports that the region’s median housing price far exceeds the prices considered affordable for the area’s median incomes, pricing a significant portion of the workforce out of the housing market.

To make matters worse, Drum said, there is little affordable housing in the pipeline or in the planning stages in any location around the lake. “But that doesn’t mean there’s no effort in getting that pipeline full,” she told Lake Tahoe News, referencing another task force spearheaded by Sue Novasel, county supervisor for district 5 in El Dorado County.

“One of the things that’s come out [talks about affordable housing] is that every jurisdiction has specific problems and needs and that trying to embrace the entire lake is difficult. We decided we need to get specific about the South Shore,” Novasel told LTN.

Additionally, with a consultant’s help, the group decided to work with Tahoe Prosperity on a pilot project. Novasel said, “Tahoe Prosperity will take the lead to develop a pilot project to redevelop an area, maybe a motel for low income people. We need to develop a tool box and we hope to get some of the fees lowered. The need is immediate. Private business needs to be a part of this.

“If we as a group can come up with a blueprint; if we can put a dent in this by getting people working together, we can at least start on the problem.”

As to the question of how many more units are needed throughout the basin to meet demand, Placer County’s Cordell said there is no simple answer to this conundrum. “Our county is in the process of preparing the Economic and Housing Needs Analysis for Placer County,” she said. “This is anticipated to be completed by the end of the year and will provide us a better understanding of what the needs are in the area.”

Following is a fairly comprehensive list of the housing available now for moderate to low-income families and individuals. Although there may be other existing data, that information was not readily available to Lake Tahoe News at press time. The information was gleaned from the May 2014 Tahoe Regional Housing Needs Report compiled by BAE Urban Economics and, also assembled by BAE, from the North Tahoe Regional Workforce Housing Needs Assessment as well as from conversations with representatives from Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, Placer County, Douglas County, El Dorado County and South Lake Tahoe.

Landlords in the Tahoe-Truckee area don’t always care about providing quality housing. Photo/Heidi Hill Drum

Complex name: 

California side

·      Bijou Woods Apartments/South Lake Tahoe/92 units low or very low income

·      Evergreen Apartments/South Lake Tahoe/26 units low or very low income

·      Kelly Ridge Apartments/South Lake Tahoe/30 units very low income/2 units 62 or older

·      Sierra Garden Apartments/South Lake Tahoe/76 units low or very low income

·      Sky Forest Acres/South Lake Tahoe/17 units very low income/1 unit for disabled

·      Tahoe Pines Apartments/South Lake Tahoe/26 units low or very low income

·      Tahoe Senior Plaza/South Lake Tahoe/45 units very low income

·      Tahoe Valle Townhomes/South Lake Tahoe/70 units low or very low income

·      The Aspens/South Lake Tahoe/56 units

Nevada side

·      Lake Vista 1/Stateline/24 units low or very low income

·      Lake Vista 11/Stateline/40 units low or very low income

·      Meadowbrook Apartments/Stateline/30 units low or very low income

·      Aspen Grove Apartments/Stateline/39 units low or very low income

North Lake Tahoe area

·      Kings Beach Housing Now/Kings Beach/77 units low or very low income

·      Corda/Tahoe City/1 unit

Truckee area

·      Frishman Hollow/Truckee/32 units very low income

·      Henness Flats/Truckee/92 units low or very low income

·      River View Homes/Truckee/38 low or very low income homes

·      Sawmill Heights/12 low income (this is a mixed-income property containing 96 units, 12 of which are low income)

·      Sierra Village/59 low or very low income

·      Truckee Donner Senior/60 low or very low income

·      Truckee Pines/104 low or very low income

·      Martis Valley/4 units.

Douglas County Community Development Director Mimi Moss advised that Douglas County’s 2011 Housing Element suggests that to meet historic population growth over the next 20 years, there will need to be 1,258 additional new low or very low income housing units, and an additional 700 new rental spaces. These figures represent the need for the entire county and not just the areas within the Tahoe basin.

In Placer County, Cordell reported several new housing projects are in the development stage, although no specific build-out data is now available.

As for easing some of the obstacles faced by potential developers, Tom Lotshaw, the public information officer for TRPA said, “Affordable, multi-family housing projects (serving people with 80 percent or less of county median income) are exempt from the need for the normal residential building allocations.

“Hundreds of bonus units are available for these types of projects at no cost from TRPA based on project need. Unfortunately, while these bonus units are readily available, we have not seen them requested or used much at Lake Tahoe.”

He added that the 2012 Regional Plan included a number of land-use planning incentives including height, density, coverage and provisions for mixed-use development for affordable multi-family housing units in town centers, in close proximity to the places where people work, shop and go to school.

As discussed earlier, the Lake Tahoe Basin is not unique in its need for housing that will meet the requirements of all of its citizens and employees. However, there are statistics compiled by the Tahoe Prosperity Center that indicate the area may have some additional hurdles to jump before the housing basics of everyone can be met. Consider these statistics:

·      Tahoe has higher than average unemployment and poverty rates

·      More than 60 percent of the children are on subsidized meal programs at their schools

·      Only 18 percent of residents can afford the median-priced home at Lake Tahoe

·      Lake Tahoe includes two states, six local governments and 198 plan areas making economic progress challenging.

Despite the challenges, there may now be enough people willing to confront the barriers and see that the forward momentum stays in place.

“As in many other parts of the country, a major shortage of affordable housing is a critical issue for the Tahoe region, and one that many partners must work together to address. It’s an issue for families and their finances; it’s an issue for community health and vitality; and it’s an issue for the environment, with many people forced to commute long distances to or from work at Tahoe,” Lotshaw told Lake Tahoe News.

SLT to chip away at affordable housing quagmire

Publisher’s note: This is one in a series of stories about affordable housing in the Lake Tahoe-Truckee region. All articles may be accessed via the home page under Special Projects, 2017 Affordable Housing.

By Kathryn Reed

South Lake Tahoe intends to acquire three vacant parcels on Riverside Avenue with the intent to turn them into housing.

The city’s Successor Agency owns them. This came about when the state dissolved redevelopment agencies. Per the state, the agency must get rid of what it owns.

The parcels have been on the market at different times in the last few years. Part of the difficulty in selling them is that there are no development rights associated with the lots. One escrow fell through and other offers have not been accepted.

The City Council last month gave direction to staff to come up with a contract to make the deal work between the city and Successor Agency. (The council acts as the directors for the Successor Agency.) The deal is expected to be consummated in October. The city will have to pay fair market value. Collectively, the parcels were appraised at $250,000.

The city could use one-time funds, possibly from excess reserves, for this purchase knowing that it will likely recover those dollars when it sells the property to a developer.

The council at its February strategic planning session talked about how businesses in the area would like the land to be converted into a parking lot. However, current zoning would not allow that use. The plan area statement would have to be amended for parking to come to fruition.

Affordable housing is an allowable use.

Kevin Fabino, who heads the city’s planning department, in August told the council it would be reasonable to merge the three parcels into one to allow for more density. Five or six units might be able to be built on that site.

While it was acknowledged this was not going to make a huge dent in the ongoing affordable housing issue plaguing the area, it would do more for the community than parking.

Councilmember Brooke Laine threw out the possibility of using some of the sewer unit allocations from the former Knights Inn motel for Riverside Avenue. Right now South Tahoe Public Utility District doesn’t allow the transfer of sewer allocations, but that board could change that rule if it so desired.

One thing the council will have to define is affordable housing. To the lay person it is often interchanged with work force or even fair market housing. However, legally, affordable housing has specific requirements based on income and can come with deed restrictions.

The exact type of housing will be decided at future council meetings.

The city has some commodities it could tie to the parcels as well to entice developers. Or it could leave it up to the next buyer to secure those rights.

More talk than action on Tahoe workforce housing

Publisher’s note: This is one in a series of stories about affordable housing in the Lake Tahoe-Truckee region. All articles may be accessed via the home page under Special Projects, 2017 Affordable Housing.

By Kathryn Reed

Nearly two years after Vail Resorts announced it would spend $30 million on workforce housing, the financial commitment is beginning to pay off in Colorado, though not so much in Tahoe.

The ski resort behemoth has been doing more at its Colorado properties than in California. Keystone is getting a $6 million workforce housing project, while 23 acres near East Vail have been identified for housing. It is spending $440,000 to convert a commercial building it owns in Silverthorne (Summit County, Colo.) into housing.

Vail Resorts says it owns or leases approximately 3,000 beds in Eagle and Summit counties, which is where its Vail, Beaver Creek, Keystone, and Breckenridge resorts are located.

“Employee housing is a priority for us at both Heavenly and Kirkwood mountain resorts, and we continuously work with our community partners and stakeholders to provide housing options and opportunities for our resorts’ teams. For instance, we have employee housing at both of our mountains; and recently, we added an additional 32 beds to our housing at Kirkwood,” Kevin Cooper, spokesman for the resorts, told Lake Tahoe News.

However, what he wouldn’t say is how many employees can be housed at the company-owned facilities, what the amenities are (laundry? food provided?), if they are more like apartments or dorms, if they are seasonal or year-round, and the cost to workers.

At the Sept. 21 California Tahoe Conservancy meeting, staff noted they are in talks with Vail Resorts – the Colorado-based parent company of Heavenly and Kirkwood – about developing workforce housing on a parcel the state owns near the Crossings at the Y in South Lake Tahoe. CTC is doing the prep work to get that land ready to be sold, with the desire for it to be used for worker housing.

It’s estimated 40 residential units could go there.

CTC staff said Vail is interested in year-round housing for employees as it expands its summer attractions.

The board will see this parcel and idea on the agenda when the environmental documents are completed and more details are solidified. Staff had no time line for when that might be.

Northstar, the Vail Resorts property in Truckee, is part of the Truckee North Tahoe Regional Housing Council, and has pledged $30,000 to the Housing Solutions Fund.

All income levels impacted by Tahoe housing crunch; moving a little east often the answer

Publisher’s note: This is one in a series of stories about affordable housing in the Lake Tahoe-Truckee region. All articles may be accessed via the home page under Special Projects, 2017 Affordable Housing.

By Susan Wood

There’s something extraordinary going on in the Lake Tahoe housing market when “The Guy from Tahoe” isn’t.

Curtis Fong, who long has had a connection with Tahoe (hence the name), moved to Gardnerville 30 years ago – marking a trend that hasn’t slowed down. In the last few decades, he’s had company. Some former Tahoe residents have moved as far away as Dayton to make the dollar go further, among other reasons.

“Bottom line, it was a better value,” Fong said of his family’s move to the Ranchos. The popular Carson Valley neighborhood was also a better place to raise children, he added.

“And when I look back 30 years ago in the days of ‘Deep Snow,’ there were drugs all over town, and most kids were latchkey kids,” Fong said of the 1989 undercover law enforcement operation that resulted in the arrest and conviction of then South Lake Tahoe Mayor Terry Trupp.

In 1987, the average price for a home in Tahoe was about $140,000. At the time, a three-bedroom on one-third of an acre in Carson Valley was $75,000. Thirteen years ago, the appraised value was $200,000 for that same property. And through the last decade, the median for a comparable property in Lake Tahoe has still dwarfed the price in comparison to its high desert neighbor. The median in South Lake Tahoe runs $404,200. In Gardnerville, it’s $330,700 at $213 per square foot, while the Ranchos is a little higher at $233.

Granted, moving outside of a tourism hotbed, especially ski towns, is not a new phenomenon to the housing market. In Mammoth, workers live in Bishop. Vail employees commute in from the far reaches of Eagle County.

Fong, who is better known as an activity-based tourism guru and icon, believes he made the right choice for financial and quality of life reasons to “go off the hill,” as it’s called.

He empathizes with those seeking a home to buy at the lake or even to rent, with the latter climbing in price but falling in inventory.

“I feel for those people out there looking for a place to live,” he said.

Where does he see the trend of Tahoe going culturally?

“It’s interesting with the millennials. I kind of see a shift to young professionals moving in, but I guess time will tell,” Fong said of the age group 18-36.

His kids, Matthew and Erin, are now in their 30s as well, and he still spends a lot of work and play time in Tahoe. He even owns office space at the lake.

Living in the Carson Valley allows Bob and Tita Anderson to enjoy things they couldn’t at the lake — like having a prolific garden. Photo/Susan Wood

In good company

Fong is not alone in keeping limited ties with Lake Tahoe while living east of it. Some made the exodus decades ago like Fong. Others just ventured down recently. Either way, it’s a continuing trend that is worth noting.

South Lake Tahoe accountant Weldon Wulstein moved to Carson Valley four years ago. He lived in Tahoe Paradise neighboring Meyers five years ago, but the family needed space and the right zoning. His daughter was into horses.

They moved onto Foothill Road south of Genoa where Wulstein said the family likes “the quiet nature” of the community.

“It’s only 15 to 20 minutes away (from the Tahoe region), but it’s a completely different world,” he said. “And prices are rising down here too, but not as fast as the lake.

“It’s interesting to straddle two communities. You can’t be as spontaneous,” he said.

He also thought about moving his South Lake Tahoe offices to the Carson Valley, but decided against the idea.

“It’s too late to start over,” he told Lake Tahoe News.

Wulstein runs into people he knows from Tahoe in stores in Carson Valley.

“I think more and more people are moving here because of the affordability factor,” he said.

Just down the road from Wulstein are Bob and Tita Anderson, a couple who moved to the Carson Valley with similar circumstances after being at the lake 36 years.

The Andersons, who also have horses, sought a place three years ago that was ideal for their retirement – one that provided good bang for the buck while, like Wulstein, they kept their company operating in South Lake Tahoe. One difference from Wulstein – the Andersons added a satellite office in Gardnerville to run two sites. The financial endeavor tripled their business market.

Through the years, the Andersons have felt the pain from their employees seeking housing in Tahoe, with rentals averaging between $1,500 to $1,600 a month in some locales.

“The biggest factor is the inventory is so low,” he said, echoing what’s become a well-known trend in a region thought of as “poverty with a view.” There’s a price to have a piece of paradise.

“Quite simply, Tahoe is a great place for young people to have fun. We don’t need as much excitement,” Bob Anderson told Lake Tahoe News.

Nonetheless, the couple has no regrets about their life path but emphasize how paradise has taken on a different meaning.

For one thing, they get to look straight up the Sierra at the snow when it dumps at Lake Tahoe. Their lower elevation allows them to tend to a prolific garden full of beets, zucchini, lettuce, squash and other lush produce. Their horses have plenty of room out the gorgeous back yard to roam when they’re not seeking cookies by the fence. They’ve quasi adopted stray ducks that follow Bob Anderson around and stroll up to the relaxing deck that resembles a sanctuary. And the chickens are tame, happy and productive with eggs.

In other words, their home could be the setting of a tourism commercial for the good life in the West.

“We loved our years we lived up there, but we haven’t heard of too many people going back,” he said.

Rich Heffelfinger is able to provide more for his boys by living in Dayton. Photo/Susan Wood

Seeing the movement every day

Even the Sierra Nevada region’s real estate agents have experienced the migration – some personally and professionally.

A 37-year real estate agent, Jim Valentine of Re/Max came from the lake but now lives and works in the Carson Valley.

He’s seen the exodus up close and personal.

“A lot of people started coming down. The migration started in the ’80s. When things were getting pricey, the Gardnerville Ranchos were built,” Valentine said.

At first, it seemed the middle class wanted simple affordability, but then things changed in recent years.

“What we’re seeing now coming off the hill is more high-end people,” Valentine said. These residents are seeking a certain lifestyle, space and quiet time like the Wulsteins and Andersons. And like Fong, Valentine cites parents looking for a place for their children to thrive.

“People are looking to escape California,” he said.

And even though the topsy-turvy real estate market took a dive in 2009 to coincide with the recession, the rebound has allowed many homeowners to get the equity back in their properties.

“It was a bucket of tears at that time,” Valentine said of the industry. “But now we’re seeing levels we saw in 2003 and 2004, with the economy getting stronger.”

Valentine expects to see a huge growth spurt with major, innovative corporations such as Tesla and Apple moving into Northern Nevada.

“Talk about a tremendous amount of employees coming here in the next few years,” he said. The influx will drive the commercial market along with it, he anticipates.

“We’ll have more people with more demand for more things,” Valentine told Lake Tahoe News.

That same drive for affordable housing in the last 30 years will drive companies to supplement the need of an expanding workforce.

Take Rich Heffelfinger. The longtime Harrah’s Lake Tahoe concierge manager describes his life at the lake like the toast of the town.

He now works in a hardware store in Dayton where he lives with his family with different priorities. Now it’s all about spending quality time with his children and watching the sunset in the high desert.

Still, he reflects on those 11 years in Tahoe with fondness as a more charged, glamorous environment of perks and recognition. However, it was a tough road from professional success to personal success for the man who started his hospitality career as the “Voice of the M.S. Dixie” at age 18.

“I thought Tahoe was my home. I moved to Tahoe (in 1996) with the intention of setting up roots. I grew up in the Washington (D.C.) suburbs, so I know about setting up roots,” he said. “I found it quite unaffordable to live here (in Tahoe).”

Being in his 20s early on, buying a home wasn’t on his radar in 1997. He rented a cabin for $400 a month.

“I wish I would have been in the mindset, but I didn’t feel like it at that stage in my life,” Heffelfinger told Lake Tahoe News. Then, there’s the perplexing challenge of getting the capital together.

More than four years ago, Heffelfinger rented a duplex for $1,800 a month in the meadow behind Lakeside Casino. His mother-in-law lived downstairs.

He wanted more for his money, so he moved from Tahoe to the Carson Valley on a lease option, but that deal fell through.

“I didn’t mind the commute (to Harrah’s), and I was trying to follow a budget,” he said.

A year ago, he ended up in Dayton with his three boys and two dogs. It backs up to open space in Storey County where the wild horses often make appearances outside their $1,000 a month rental house.

In the meantime, Carson Valley rentals have gone up alongside Lake Tahoe’s. He was looking at rentals for $1,800 a month before deciding to migrate farther east.

It’s definitely a different lifestyle.

“I’ve learned the simple things – to appreciate nature, solitude and good friends,” he said.

The commute to Harrah’s was unfeasible from Dayton. He ended up getting laid off within the last year anyway. He took the downtime as a way of spending quality time with his boys.

“If there was a winter to be laid off, it was this last one,” Heffelfinger said. Staying put proved safer than struggling with an hour and a half commute under normal weather conditions.

“I’m learning to like Dayton, and we’re learning to live with less,” he said. The family eats in most of the time as a healthier and less expensive alternative to flitting around restaurants most nights in Tahoe.

The 38-year-old man is saving to buy a home and is “grateful for what we have,” he said of his change of heart.

“In Tahoe, it was tough trying to keep up with the Joneses. I felt like I had to be ‘on’ in tourism concierge. I love living the simpler life,” he said.

The apartment complex Randy Valiente lives in would be demolished if the loop road goes through. Photo/Susan Wood

Life loops around

Randy Valiente could be facing a similar life choice if the loop road project comes to fruition like the Tahoe Transportation District plans.

The project, which is undergoing an environmental review, calls for Highway 50 to be diverted through the Stateline area from Pioneer Trail around the 7-Eleven convenience store, connect with Montreal Road in front of the Van Sickle Bi-state Park and hook up with Lake Parkway as it weaves back to its main channel on the east side of MontBleu.

The controversial proposal is intended to make the casino corridor into a pedestrian hub. But there’s more to it than that.

Part of the deal calls for a denser replacement of units to make up for the modest, to-be-demolished checkerboard houses, cabins and apartments now located on those “shortcut” streets such as Moss, Fern, Chonokis and Primrose avenues. In an ambitious government maneuver, a land swap is required to move the highway to become city property. The California Department of Transportation would take over the new highway and put greenbelts alongside it.

Valiente’s apartment at 3734 Primrose is right in the path – within a block east of Moss Avenue, straight up from the 7-Eleven.

The food and beverage worker now walks to his job at Harrah’s and wonders what will happen if the project goes through in the coming years.

The Stateline renter shared that he had no knowledge of the project since the landlord has not discussed the subject with him.

He is open to suggestions in moving from his two-bedroom apartment he rents for $850 a month.

“For us, if they give us a place to stay, then fine. That’s a problem living around Tahoe. It’s quite hard,” he told Lake Tahoe News, while sitting outside his place.

Motorists whizzed by on this popular shortcut used to circumvent traffic backups on Highway 50 in the casino corridor.

That’s precisely what Tahoe Transportation District Director Carl Hasty expects to hear and wants to answer.

“Housing is important. That’s how I look at it. It doesn’t solve all our housing issues, but it takes care of much of it,” Hasty told Lake Tahoe News during a stroll through the affected area. “This is a way of getting density housing in.”

The plan is for 76 residential units to be built, with “no net loss” of housing. Still, displacement is a hard sell anytime residents are relocated in the name of what proponents call progress. And with Hasty’s long planning tenure in Tahoe including as a high-ranking authority at the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, he may know better than anyone.

A relocation assistance analysis study was conducted in respect to the loop road.

“Acquisition and relocation are the most expensive part of the process,” he said.  Fair market value will be the order of the day.

But of course it comes with the territory as South Lake Tahoe knows. Redevelopment in Stateline was never easy but turned out to be a financial boon in tax dollars if one forgives a few hiccups along the way associated with albatross amenities such as the parking garage at Heavenly Village.

But what’s the alternative to moving ahead?

“There are multiple reasons (for) and benefits to this. If there’s no project, it’s a lost opportunity,” Hasty told Lake Tahoe News. “It would accelerate the city’s local area plan objective.”

The city has special districts at Ski Run Boulevard, the Y referred to as Tahoe Valley, and Harrison Avenue.

On one recent summer morning, Hasty paused a long time at the corner of Moss and Pioneer to imagine the prospects of what could be developed at an open lot there.

“The question becomes what happens here. This is the gateway. There are endless creative opportunities,” he said, while pondering the future. “It’s time to build for the next 75 years.”

Bay Area money gobbling up Truckee properties

Publisher’s note: This is one in a series of stories about affordable housing in the Lake Tahoe-Truckee region. All articles may be accessed via the home page under Special Projects, 2017 Affordable Housing.

By Linda Fine Conaboy

TRUCKEE – To live in Truckee and surrounding areas requires a great deal of money; money that seems to be in good supply especially if you’ve recently sold or are contemplating selling property in the Bay Area, where many of the buyers are cashing out and seeking more reasonable housing options in the Sierra.

Speakers representing various segments of Truckee’s wild real estate market comprised the panel of presenters at the Aug. 8 Truckee Donner Chamber of Commerce breakfast. They discussed the peculiarities their unique market presents including inventory, long- and short-term rentals, real estate trends and their impacts on the local economy and the community.

“If you make less than $100,000 a year, housing is an issue around Lake Tahoe and Truckee.” — Katie Rice, senior loan officer at Guild Mortgage




The cost of housing took up big slices of air time as well it should since the median price of a home in the area is now $585,000, compared to $549,000 in 2016.

Affordable housing issues are numerous, said Matt Hansen, owner/broker of Tahoe Truckee Homes and the panel’s moderator.

Sam Drury, president of the Tahoe Sierra Board of Realtors and broker/owner of Padden Properties, agreed and noted Truckee has more full-time residents now than Lake Tahoe, although this hasn’t always been the case. The way Drury sees it, Truckee has become a far more stable area, garnering the lion’s share of buyers who mostly hail from the Bay Area.

“If you’re a second-home buyer and flush with cash, you really don’t worry about price,” he said. “Tahoe is Fantasy Land for Californians. Fifty percent of my deals last year were cash. It’s a very different world up here.”

He added that as far as he can see, price is not an object to these consumers. “People are flush. That’s a really odd thing. They can spend, and want to spend [sometimes] more than $3 million. These customers are the life blood of our community. It’s the way it is, there’s nothing else I can say.”

But this scenario can leave the local who’s looking for a reasonably priced family home out of the running.

A second-home owner purchasing a house priced at about $527,000 can expect an average monthly payment of $2,700, said Katie Rice, senior loan officer at Guild Mortgage. “Locals can’t afford this, and with so much cash floating around, sellers usually will take the cash offer. It’s a struggle, but cash offers are easier.”

Houses are not affordable for the average worker in Truckee. Photos/Linda Fine Conaboy

Starter homes in Truckee remain solidly within the $400,000 to $500,000 range, causing some to look for housing in Reno and elsewhere. “But there’s a big affordable housing problem in Reno too,” Rice said.

Even if people can find an affordable home in Truckee, other expenses can ruin monthly budgets, especially when you consider that many pay up to $1,000 in childcare costs, not to mention food, utilities and other monthly essentials.

And the picture becomes even more dismal as Rice paints a grim scenario describing costs that can be incurred on a $407,000 “starter home,” which includes a 20 percent down payment. She said the base monthly payment pencils at $1,600, but with the addition of taxes, insurance and other fees the final monthly figure comes in at $2,124.

“No one’s doubting we have a problem here,” declared Jim Winterberger, partner and president at Tahoe Getaways. “But business is good and housing prices are high here because this is a cool place to be.”

Winterberger added that solutions to the dilemma need to include housing pockets such as Martis Camp, Shafer’s Mill and Northstar.

“As the long-term rental pool shrinks, it’s forcing people out of the market—this is affecting Truckee as a community.” He added, “As an investor, you need to put at least 50 percent down and you need a long-term tenant. If not, it can be a challenge.”

Chiming in, Drury alluded to the number of unknowns yet to be discovered. “The Bay Area is an economic engine running the problem and it’s on full throttle now; but there it costs a ton to buy a house. The excess money might be being sucked up by the high cost of living. Californians need to be reminded about how wonderful we are,” he laughed.

An audience member asked why there are so few multi-family dwellings in the region. The answer from the panel: it’s expensive and hard to get financing and insurance.

“We’re all dealing with really tight margins,” Rice said. “Even if investors have emotional ties to Truckee, they still have to make money.”

In addition, Rice added, “We need to figure out how to keep our work force here. People in our community are not connecting the dots about housing. If someone has to commute from Grass Valley or even Fernley, you can reach a point of diminishing returns.

“I don’t think there’s one solution, it will take everyone working together to solve this. If you make less than $100,000 a year, housing is an issue around Lake Tahoe and Truckee.”

Ashley Cooper, Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation communications and grant manager was a visitor at this meeting instead of a presenter as she has been in the past. TTCF helped create the Mountain Housing Council.

“Everyone’s talking together,” Cooper said. “We’re trying to build awareness [of this housing situation]. People care about other people.”

She invited guests to participate and send her their thoughts and ideas. “We need you and your solutions,” she said.

SLT affordable housing eliminated for tourist units

A few empty trailers still occupy the parcel behind Hotel Azure. Photo/LTN

Publisher’s note: This is one in a series of stories about affordable housing in the Lake Tahoe-Truckee region. All articles may be accessed via the home page under Special Projects, 2017 Affordable Housing.

By Kathryn Reed

A few dozen South Lake Tahoe residents have been removed from their affordable housing units so more tourist accommodation units can be erected for a project that isn’t even permitted.

The owners of Hotel Azure, who live in San Francisco, also own the mobile home park behind that property along Rufus Allen Boulevard. Today it is a skeleton of what was once a low key housing area. The trailer park has been vacant for about four months.

“There were only about six tenants left prior to closing. All were bought out at fair market value and agreed to sell,” Rich Bodine, director of operations for the hotel, told Lake Tahoe News.

Where they went is unknown.

The people living in the trailers were renting space from Azure, which used to be called Inn by the Lake.

The plan is to put tiny houses on that land. But instead of them being available for residents, they will be a variation on hotel lodging. They come premade and will be placed on a concrete slab.

“It will give them a sense of renting a home, but still have amenities of a hotel,” Bodine said. The company wants to compete with the Airbnbs of the world.

Bodine predicted everything will be in place by 2019. First up, he said, is getting the infrastructure in place.

Really, the first step is getting the permits.

According to Tom Lotshaw with the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, “… in 2013 the owners of the mobile home park submitted an application to subdivide the existing mobile home unit spaced, but that application had issues and has been on hold ever since.”

The city doesn’t even know about these plans.

“The Development Services Department is not aware of the project and there is no pending application proposing such a project,” South Lake Tahoe planner John Hitchcock told Lake Tahoe News.

With no project even being considered by the regulatory agencies, that 2019 date could be farfetched, and it means local residents could have still been in their homes.

Property owners, developers may be mandated to pay for affordable housing in Placer County

Publisher’s note: This is one in a series of stories about affordable housing in the Lake Tahoe-Truckee region. All articles may be accessed via the home page under Special Projects, 2017 Affordable Housing.

By Kathryn Reed

KINGS BEACH – Placer County knows it needs more housing that the “average” worker can afford to buy or rent. Getting more inventory is the problem.

In the last 10 years 400 new housing units have been built in eastern Placer County. The need is for 2,000 units in the North Lake Tahoe-Truckee area, according to officials.

The county is contemplating restructuring fees for those who build in the county. It could be that the eastern and western sides of the county would have different programs.

“The purpose of the studies is to establish the reasonable relationship – nexus – between new residential and non-residential development and the demand created for additional affordable housing, and to determine the maximum justifiable affordable housing fees and present options for possible adoption of fees,” according to the county.

Consultants looked at adding a 2 percent fee to all residential property that changes hands. Commercial property could face a fee too.

Cathy Donovan, housing specialist with the county, last week went over the draft of the Nexus-based Workforce Housing Fee Study that was prepared by MintierHarnish and Hansford, two consulting firms.

The Board of Supervisors in July is scheduled to hear a presentation on the report. Board action is possible in the fall. Right now staff does not know what it will recommend to the electeds.

What is being looked at is fees for market rate properties, but not those wanting to build work force-affordable housing.

“Right now only certain projects are required to pay for affordable housing,” Jennifer Merchant, Placer County deputy CEO based in Tahoe, said.

The Domus development is the newest affordable housing development in Kings Beach. Photo/LTN

People at the meeting expressed frustration with some projects that were built, but neglected to construct the mandated work force housing.

Consultants are trying to make a case that any new development impacts workforce housing.

Fees collected in the past were able to be used to help build the 77-unit Domus affordable housing complex on Highway 28.

In lieu fees have been part of the county’s culture for at least a dozen years. The current requirement on new development mandates building on-site or off-site employee housing, dedicating land for future affordable housing, or paying an in lieu fee.

What the study looked it is how there is an affordability gap between what people can pay and what it costs to build market rate housing. The gap equals the subsidy that would be required to build the project.

“The fee (charged to developers) would go to a housing trust fund and the county can leverage that,” Donovan said at the meeting in Kings Beach.

In this region the stats for the number of units sold in 2015 that were built in the last five years show there were zero at $500,000 or less, 13 in the $500,000-$1 million range, 30 in the $1 million-$2 million category, and 53 were greater than $2 million.

Clearly, housing for the worker making minimum wage or thereabouts is not part of the mix.

A real estate agent at the meeting said Kings Beach will lose about 100 affordable units in the next year because an investor is coming in to eliminate what exists and doesn’t plan to replace it with the same type of housing.



·      Comments on the study may be sent to Shawna Purvines at

Truckee grappling with dire housing situation

Publisher’s note: This is one in a series of stories about affordable housing in the Lake Tahoe-Truckee region. All articles may be accessed via the home page under Special Projects, 2017 Affordable Housing.

By Linda Fine Conaboy

TRUCKEE – Affordable living spaces, including single family homes, rooms, sheds, apartments, trailers and anything else deemed inhabitable in Truckee and its environs are now non-existent, leaving the area in a state of crisis affecting not only individuals, but also the region’s economy.

When one thinks about the immensity of this situation, it can be hard to digest the desperation of the countless numbers of people who are unable to satisfy one of the most basic of all human needs—a safe and affordable place to call home.

However, this phenomenon isn’t new; it’s a fact that the skids on these wheels have been in the greasing process for some time. The downward free fall is now full-blown reality, with the gap broadening between those who, for one reason or another enjoy the privilege that enough money brings, and those who find they must hand over up to half of their take-home pay, in some cases, simply to enjoy the security of a roof over their heads.

The national recommendation is that housing costs not exceed 30 percent of annual earnings, at the outside.

It’s important to keep in mind that the Sierra isn’t the only place where all forms of robust recreational opportunities are available; and it’s definitely not the only place where the gap between the rich and the not-so-rich is a problem.

A report generated by the town of Truckee notes that the housing puzzle is not new and has been under scrutiny since Truckee’s incorporation 24 years ago.

Nevertheless, the status quo does not seem to be improving; in fact, now, consensus has it the crisis is genuine. Valuable time has seemingly been frittered away with no concrete solutions.

In view of this, it was clear that the time was ripe for responsible leadership—a chore assumed by the Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation, which stepped up, embarking on a long-term study of the situation, with results becoming available in summer 2016. Since then, TTCF and other stakeholders have been at work to engender consensus and create a plan of action.

TTCF generated a report titled “Truckee North Lake Tahoe Regional Housing Needs Assessment,” which contained a comprehensive review of the area’s needs and demographics, with funding provided by Placer County, Truckee, Nevada County and the Workforce Housing Association of Truckee Tahoe.

In brief, the results of the poll showed:

·      55 percent of households have incomes classified as moderate or low

·      59 percent of workers commute to their jobs

·      47 percent commute out of the region to their jobs

·      4,000-plus new jobs are expected to be created in the region over the next 15 years

·      Almost half spend more than 30 percent of income on housing; 26 percent spend 50 percent

·      Rental rates are high, but there is little rental housing available

·      80 percent of the region’s 474 below-market housing units are in Truckee, all with waiting lists.

Housing in Truckee comes in a variety of sizes. Photos/Linda Fine Conaboy

Putting a face to the problem

With these facts in mind, meet Elvia Esparza, a hard-working ex-Truckee resident, who is the office manager at Family Resource Center of Truckee.

Esparza, born and raised in Truckee, and husband Jose, have three children, all of whom now commute from Reno, daily, to work and go to school in Truckee. She says the mobile home they lived in at a park in town became too small as their family grew.

“I was born and raised in Truckee and I have four brothers, one twin sister and my mom. We are all very involved in our community (Truckee),” Esparaza told Lake Tahoe News. “As our family expanded, we were running out of space so we decided to look into purchasing a home in Truckee. We applied for the first-time home buyers program. We qualified for 10 percent of the purchase price or up to $40,000. We started our house search and realized that homes under $400,000 were either way smaller than what we currently had or they were falling apart.”

After scouring Truckee for something to meet their needs, the Esparzas realized that they had to consider other options.

“My husband asked me if I would consider moving to Reno. I originally said no, but in all reality, this was going to be our only option. My husband told me that we have two options; we can stay in Truckee and get something that we will struggle to pay for and live stressed every day and not be able to do fun things with our children, or we move to Reno where we can afford a home and still have a great quality of life and enjoy activities with our kids.

“With no doubt I said yes. We sold our mobile home and purchased a home in Reno. We continue to commute to Truckee as I love this town; it is a great town to raise children in and I would love for my children to have the opportunity to be raised in this wonderful community. I hope in the future we will be able to move back.”

Although Jessica Gorton doesn’t live or work in Truckee (she works in Incline Village and lives and works her second job in Kings Beach), her story is representative of many younger people who reside in the area and are free-spirited, outdoor enthusiasts who struggle to be able to continue to live their dream in the region.

“Right now, I live in a shed. I know this probably shocks you, but it is true,” Groton told Lake Tahoe News. “And it’s still $600 a month plus a share of the utilities of the house its sits next to. The landlord converted it to a rentable room with heat and electricity, but I have to use the bathroom and kitchen in the main house, so the shed is really a bedroom.”

Groton said she was desperate, and no longer wanted to live in her car, which, she said, wasn’t so bad since she got to camp and climb four days a week and save a lot of money for “cool” trips and more climbing gear.

“This might sound like a series of unfortunate events, but to be honest, it has become a bit comical,” she said of her other housing adventures. “I now live very simply and all the things I own in Tahoe fit into a single carload. It’s OK to laugh about it. I do. Luckily, living in Tahoe is a pretty great life, so if this is the worst I deal with, I suppose I still have it pretty dang great.”

Truckee does not have enough housing, especially for the average worker. Photo/Linda Fine Conaboy

Looking for solutions

To date, there have been three public meetings in Truckee to discuss the housing crisis—one in January, another in February and a final meeting in mid-April. Lake Tahoe News attended all three, and in each meeting, to some degree, several of the same points were made and rehashed.

Tony Lashbrook, Truckee town manager, and others at these meetings have deliberated all sorts of ideas, including the merits of constructing some sort of housing on public lands, which, they said, would require voter approval. They talked about modification of fees as well as the implementation of new laws to allow second units to be built on some properties and then exempt them from some of the imposed fees.

However, to its credit, and as reported by Lashbrook, Truckee continues to address the situation. Some of the steps the town has taken or is considering include:

·      Plans for new housing—5,000 new homes since 1993

·      Advanced planning for affordable housing

·      Regulations modified to allow second units on properties

·      Allowed for residential units above businesses

·      Home buyers’ assistance programs

·      Set aside $2.5 million as a housing reserve to provide housing for locals.

Lashbrook also cited some of the lessons learned as the town continues to address the housing crisis. They are, in part:

·      Needed, 12,000 new housing units for locals

·      Truckee is 6,000 housing units away from build-out

·      Truckee must be careful to maintain its small town character

·      Affordable housing units struggle for success

·      Very few second units have been built, perhaps because of restrictions

·      Maybe fees are too high and can be modified—construction costs include almost $42,000 in building charges.

At the third and final public meeting, Lashbrook and others listened to input from various area businesses and interested parties and re-visited ideas put forth at previous gatherings.

They included modifying the impact fees with the intent to stimulate the construction of affordable housing; provide a fee amnesty program for the costs of building second units on some properties; approaching homeowners’ associations to soften restrictions on second units; create stock building plans for second units, and pay the building permit fees for new secondary living spaces.

Additionally, there was talk of restricting the number of short-term rentals or curbing the time a space can be rented on a short-term basis. Additionally, the merits of providing more incentives to homeowners to rent to locals rather than listing spare rooms on Airbnb was tossed around.

It is apparent the quest for affordable housing continues for large portions of the population, a fact that is not lost on TTCF or other stakeholders including Northstar ski resort, which recently ponied up $30,000 to help with the formation of the original Regional Housing Council and to offset the costs of the crisis.

According to Ashley Cooper, TTCF communications and grant manager, plans for the next steps will be rolled out at a meeting scheduled for this weekend. They include introduction of the Mountain Housing Council of Tahoe Truckee, the name chosen to replace the original Regional Housing Council.

Cooper told Lake Tahoe News, “Housing the people of our community is a top priority for the recently formed Mountain Housing Council of Tahoe Truckee. TTCF and other key stakeholders are committing time and resources to establishing a regional agenda to accelerate housing solutions.”

According to Cooper, the kickoff is scheduled for April 29 from 8-11am at Truckee High School and in addition to introducing the Mountain Housing Council of Tahoe Truckee’s members, the meeting represents the culmination of nearly two years of gatherings and discussions.

Reservations for the April 29 meeting are required and can be made by going online.

TTD becoming agent for affordable housing

The environmental document for the loop road is looking at affordable housing going in where these businesses are located. Photo/LTN file

Publisher’s note: This is one in a series of stories about affordable housing in the Lake Tahoe-Truckee region. All articles may be accessed via the home page under Special Projects, 2017 Affordable Housing.

Updated April 15:

By Kathryn Reed

Transit oriented development – it’s the latest buzz phrase in the basin. Simply put, it means creating commercial and residential areas that are walkable-bikeable and have easy access to public transportation.

At today’s Tahoe Transportation District meeting the board will hear a presentation about how housing ties into the proposed loop road project.

The district has identified 78 residential units in South Lake Tahoe that would have to be leveled if and when Highway 50 is rerouted behind Harrah’s and MontBleu. Fifty-five of those units fit the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency’s definition of needing to be deed restricted based on low income criteria. Finding the right mix for the remaining 23 is still in the discussion phase.

TTD has pledged to not have any decrease in housing stock because of the highway project. The bi-state agency has also expressed interest in creating more housing than what it removes.

In the loop road’s environmental document, which will be released this month, three locations were studied for where affordable housing could be located. Affordable in this case goes beyond the legal income based definition.

“When it comes to workforce housing, this is primary housing, and what supports and engages a transit system,” Carl Hasty, TTD chief, told Lake Tahoe News. This would be multi-family housing – apartments, townhomes – no single family residences. And not second homes or vacation rentals.

Hasty has been contacted by three potential developers about affordable housing. But before those projects can be talked about in any seriousness, the highway project needs to have a preferred alternative and be green-lighted.

The three areas the environmental impact statement looked at include: the triangle area where the Naked Fish and Bottle Shop are located; directly across the street from there; and the strip of land behind Raley’s at Stateline behind the center and paralleling what would be Highway 50.

This latter area has been talked about by Terry Hackett, the center’s owner, as a potential location for senior housing. Parking could be underneath, with a couple floors of housing above it.

However, Mike McKeen who owns the Naked Fish-Powder House building told Lake Tahoe News, “Low income housing at our property will never happen. I would only be open to condos like the Zalanta project.”

The environmental document is exploring density, commercial floor area constraints and other factors.

Hasty has received a letter of interest by a developer who would like to build 142 units on land that is being studied in the EIS.

“The concept they are suggesting to me is something that we should take a look at,” Hasty said. “I first need a decision about (the highway) project.”

TTD is working with other entities on the housing issue. With TRPA, the city and Douglas County, the plan is to send out a request for proposal seeking “an experienced person or firm to assist the group in addressing housing needs through eligible projects and act as a bridge between the public agencies and the private sector development community.”

Tom Lotshaw, spokesman for Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, told Lake Tahoe News, “Major projects like the proposed Highway 50 project are one place where we can work together to make sure housing improvements are incorporated and a benefit of the final project. These types of transformative transportation projects are a great opportunity to improve not only our transportation system, but to incorporate elements that improve housing options, spur community revitalization and mixed-use redevelopment, and improve the environment.”

Another player in all of this housing talk is the California Tahoe Conservancy. It has several parcels that staff and the board have earmarked to sell. All are located in the Tahoe Valley Area Plan. Here is the CTC land map.

“We are now exploring, among other options, whether we should partner with TTD in soliciting interest from developers to provide housing and/or mixed uses on these parcels,” Patrick Wright, CTC executive director, told Lake Tahoe News.

One area the TTD is eyeing is acreage on Lake Tahoe Boulevard and Tata Lane that CTC owns. Hasty has been approached about a 120-unit development there.

The cost to relocate the displaced residents in the highway realignment project will be incurred by TTD.



·      TTD meeting is April 14 at 8:30am, TRPA offices, 128 Market St., Stateline.

·      The Douglas County commissioners will hear a presentation from Hasty on April 20 about TTD’s role in housing and how the county can be a partner.

·      A similar discussion will occur at the May 2 South Lake Tahoe City Council meeting.

Tahoe shelter for millennials as diverse as lifestyle

Publisher’s note: This is one in a series of stories about affordable housing in the Lake Tahoe-Truckee region. All articles may be accessed via the home page under Special Projects, 2017 Affordable Housing.

By Susan Wood

When it comes to millennials and home ownership, the 30s could arguably be the new 20s.

The 16- to 34-year olds (per U.S. Census Bureau), aka millennials, have hit the pause button on certain aspects of the all-American dream.

With some exceptions, many demographic studies in the United States have pointed to a delay in home ownership among a generation known for its computer wizardry, independence and mobility. The findings coincide with their apparent hesitation about raising children and even getting married in their coming of age period.

In 2015, the younger set numbering 83.1 million, according to the Census Bureau in 2015, appear more diverse than any other generation in minority status, goals and view of the world. (California tops the list with 61.5 percent among minorities.)

Whatever ethnicity or locale, millennials have brought home ownership to a record 30-year low at 34.1 percent compared to the overall U.S. population coming in at 62.9 percent.

Despite the generation splitting that number in half, Business Insider among other observers keeping a close eye on the demographic group, reports that 65.3 percent of these youth associates buying a home with the American dream. That’s the plan for a majority when the time is right.

Timing is everything

The waiting by millennials says as much about their view of social norms in the world and rejections of climbing the corporate ladder as their income status and cautious optimism about the nation’s finances.

Millennials are less likely to get married as they’re coming of age than previous generations. According to the Pew Research Center, only 42 percent of millennials were married and living with their spouse last year. In 1963, that number exceeded 80 percent.

Moreover, the majority of millennials – 56 percent – was childless. By contrast, more than half of Gen Xers and Baby Boomers reared children at that similar stage of life.

Alongside mounting student loan debt, sources like SmartAsset have cited labor market opportunities as a key factor in jumping into life-altering moves. Millennials were hit hard by the recession of 2009, which ran parallel with a weak jobs recovery in subsequent years. Then, there’s simply a lack of desire early in life to sign on to a spouse or children, much less being roped in to such a large investment like a home.

Brianna Biller is making ends meet by subletting her rental to tourists via Airbnb. Photo/Susan Wood

Home is relative

“Because a lot of us entered the workforce during the recession, I don’t know anything but living paycheck to paycheck. We’re overworked and underpaid,” Brianna Biller told Lake Tahoe News while in her rental off Pioneer Trail.

Biller works in sales for Sierra-at-Tahoe at a job she loves in paradise. The 29-year-old knows the ropes. She grew up in Tahoe and left to attend a performing arts school to become an actor.

She’s resided in a few different living arrangements here, including sharing space with her best friend in a place she affectionately referred to as the “ghetto in the meadow.” The term plays right into the longstanding nickname for Tahoe housing – “poverty with a view.” 

Tahoe is known to test the will of even the steeliest of residents. For years, ski resort employees would bunk up, sometimes 10 people to a house to make ends meet.

With such a low inventory of rentals, those not buying a home are forced to stand in long lines to compete for places. Biller recalled going to an open house and seeing prospective renters standing there “with folders” to sell themselves. To top it off, scams exist. She later found her place because she knew the right person.

“I can’t do (permanent) roommates anymore. One of them turned the heater on and left the window open,” she said in disgust. “It’s just stuff like that.”

But good rentals aren’t cheap.

A light bulb was turned on

Biller discovered the clear advantage of her generation’s advancements in the digital age.

She rents out her upstairs loft on Airbnb, the increasingly popular online home sharing website. She has renters but on a temporary basis, most often on the weekends because who doesn’t want to visit Tahoe?

Biller has found a lifestyle so pleasing: “It makes me want to open a hostel.”

She established a little seating area similar in looks to the front lobby of a bed and breakfast. She assembled a binder full of hikes, bike rides and other activities visitors may partake in while they share a roof with her for a few days.

“I love waking up here and hearing people laughing in the morning,” she said.

Plus, money is not the concern it was.

“Now I can afford good wine,” Biller said.

This is the lifestyle Biller wants, even though living through the recession has been challenging. Nonetheless, millennials have learned to do what they need to do to pay the bills, given their diverse views of the working world.

“My generation is getting creative in getting corporate America dethroned. Our generation is all about the experience and not collecting stuff,” she said. “This is our generation’s response to wasted resources.”

Smart, single and savvy, this Tahoe woman doesn’t necessarily buy into a certain protocol of falling into line.

“Not everyone has to have kids. I have no desire to chase that ideal and move up to a bigger house,” she said.

Instead, her golden retriever Cody fills in the gap nicely. They love romping in the woods steps from her humble abode.

Dondra Biller and Ryan Elson are new homeowners on the South Shore. Photo/Susan Wood

Stages and outcomes vary

Biller’s sister, Dondra, 30, returned to Tahoe a few months ago after a stint in Colorado, but she took on a different living arrangement.

She bought a home here with her 35-year-old husband, Ryan Elson, and got a job in her environmental science discipline selling water quality products for General Electric.

“I look at working for corporate America as a means to an end,” said Dondra Biller, who travels a region and calls Tahoe her work-home base. “Colorado was nice, but I really wanted to live in Tahoe.”

The Earth science/oceanography major met Elson in Santa Cruz. She graduated from college in 2009.

Like her sister, Dondra’s attitude about being responsible with money but skeptical about what it can do were somewhat formed by the financial crash and consequential ailing jobs market.

“One thing that has shaped the millennials is we literally came out of the age of recession. For me, I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop,” she said.

“We wanted to buy a house so we could do what we want with it,” said Elson, who works for Bentley Nevada in engineering.

The two rely on each other greatly in a world filled with insecurity, doubt and mistrust. While they’re being creative with their home, creating life in their household might be on hold.

“A lot of my friends have the pressure to be perfect like having a child,” Biller said.

Instead, they’re focusing on their careers and want to contribute to their community.

“Millennials want everyone to have what they need. We’re willing to pay for the greater good,” she said. Call it a new sense of socialism. 

“In Tahoe, things crashed, but came back. Still, we don’t buy into that you must have kids and the bigger house. Millennials are not stuck on that at all. We can make our lives what we want them to be,” said Biller, noting how the couple wants to develop an energy-efficient home.

And like Brianna, Dondra stated they’re well aware of a lack of short-term housing and good-paying jobs “but we were hell-bent on being in the community here.”

Think globally, act locally

The Biller sisters aren’t the only ones who grew up at Lake Tahoe and returned upon leaving the nest.

Many say Tahoe has a draw.

Millennial Devin Middlebrook reinforced this notion. At age 27, he has a job in the basin at the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency.

Having graduated in business and sustainability at Chico State in 2007, Middlebrook is now using his studies to protect the lake he grew up loving. This is so appropriate, given his friends and family are here.

Still, Middlebrook wanted to be independent. He shares a home with his girlfriend, something he admits he’s “lucky” to be able to do.

“Tahoe was always home. I always had a plan to come back,” he told Lake Tahoe News.

Having endured the recession while in school, he crossed his fingers he would find a job here. He returned in 2012, going to work for the Tahoe Resource Conservation District before landing the job at TRPA.

“Tahoe can be very tough on young people. I had my parents’ house to come home to. Some are not as fortunate,” he said.

Middlebrook recalled how a friend had to move away because she couldn’t find a place that would take a dog.

“It’s a humble house (we have), but it gives us what we need,” he said. “You don’t make a ton of money here, but that’s the trade off of experiencing life in Tahoe.”

And there lies the common denominator expressed by numerous millennials. It’s all about the experience – not the prestige.

Jamie, Annika and David Orr are living the Lake Tahoe dream. Photo/Provided

Seize the day

One could say David Orr understands this better than most.

Bucking the millennial tradition of delaying marrying and having kids, Orr, 33, prides himself on establishing a life for he and his wife, Jamie, 35, and their daughter Annika, 5, within a one-mile radius. 

Again, living is about seizing the most out of it – opposed to wasting time, for example sitting on a freeway in the San Francisco Bay Area to get to a corporate office. 

Orr had that life and shows no plans of returning. In fact, he’s taking all those idea-building brain cells and creating a sense of community for not only his family, but for others.

He opened Tahoe Mountain Lab on Harrison Avenue with his wife as a way to provide a commercial space for the mobile worker. He recently expanded the operation to the restaurant at the top of the Heavenly Mountain Resort tram.

He’s seen his fair share of what’s being referred to as “digital nomads” in his generation. Those workers provide a service online and can live and work anywhere to accommodate most any whim.

“The old ideals are in question. It’s the experience that’s important – not collecting possessions,” Orr told LTN that he’s come to realize about his age group. His claim echoes the Biller sisters’ assessments.

Of course, everybody’s different. However, he has noticed a disproportionate number of millennials choosing to move around without having an anchor on their heels.

“Most millennials these days don’t want to be tied to a mortgage,” he said. “If they are buying homes, they don’t want a ton of space.” 

There’s a movement going forward that bills those modular spaces used commercially and personally as the wave of the future.

“At the Mountain Lab, there’s a place where we’re trying to solve problems in our lives besides being in these four walls,” he said, motioning to the building he’s running. “It’s designed to spur the South Shore economy.”

The Mountain Lab houses many business professionals just needing ample, minimal office space. There are attorneys, financial consultants and real estate agents. The building remains full.

Orr would like to see the commercial idea in other buildings expand into living spaces. Developing this further would take a lot of effort, especially given regulations and the structural layout of Tahoe.  

But this is a new day, with a new groundswell to accomplish progress.

“There are experience-driven places, and that’s what makes Tahoe special. That’s why the millennials are moving here,” he said. Orr almost sounds like a prophet when he talks about his vision for the South Shore.

It’s all part of a cycle

South Lake Tahoe Association of Realtors spokeswoman Theresa Souers has seen many trends as a longtime Realtor in this market area.

She’s noticed a slight uptick about the latest adult generation buying homes, but not necessarily a huge increase.

“I am noticing my kids’ friends coming back,” she said.

Of those who do, some will get their parents to co-sign like the Gen Xers did – while the Baby Boomers are downsizing in their moves.

“Those that can’t afford the high rents, buy,” Souers said. “Today, millennials are yesterday’s Gen Xers.”

Some like the Orrs made their mark in the lucrative Bay Area and can afford it by utilizing their highly demanded computer programming skills and creative sense.

Beyond housing, Souers has also seen a rise in the number of small businesses popping up with a young influence at the helm. These businesses are providing products and services that are unique. Even with the companies that have been around town for a while, there’s a sense of more profitability to be had.

It’s only a matter of time when more millennials buy into that dream of owning a home, if anything because their “experience” may become more grounded in home and hearth.

Zillow and are predicting 2017 will be the year it all turns around as millennials make the plunge. Estimates indicate that home prices will increase by 3.9 percent, according to a Reuters report. believes much of the sales will be driven by that age group.

Of the top 10 metropolitan areas in the United States, Sacramento ranks No. 4 with a projected sales growth of 4.9 percent. Perhaps, there could be spillover to Tahoe.

The state of home ownership needs a jolt

Making the big move into home ownership is long in coming for millennials – especially in California. Just ask Troy Matthews.

The 32-year-old South Lake Tahoe man admits that if he and his wife had not qualified for a USDA loan through El Dorado County with no down payment required, they’d be renting.

“For a lot of millennials, that’s an issue. We just don’t have the money,” he said, comparing Tahoe to major cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco. “If we lived there, I guarantee you we would not own a home.”

Matthews works for Tahoe Youth & Family Services and is the civic engagement chairman of the Tahoe Regional Young Professionals, a social group at 250 members strong and growing.

He’s witnessed other young professionals struggling with the same challenges.

Matthews understands the interest in waiting for the bigger milestones in life. He just got married a few years ago and has no children.

“Many millennials don’t want to be tied to mortgages. Renting offers mobility, and we came out of the recession,” he said. “It’s really hard to save money.”

Putting away the down payment with home prices what they are may seem like a daunting task for someone entering the housing market. But their sheer numbers in the population carry clout.

That’s why the California Association of Realtors is studying the demographic.

“A lot of them are living at home for various reasons – with a lot hit by the recession,” CAR spokeswoman Lotus Lou told LTN.

In its 2016 Millennial Survey, CAR discovered that 44 percent of millennials live with their family. The household annual income rounds out at $49,000 a year. With that money, CAR found out millennials in the Golden State plan to buy in the next five years. Half rent now because “they cannot afford to buy,” according to the survey. 

Notably, “an affordable home price would be the No. 1 motivator” to get millennial renters to turn the key. In the meantime, 10 percent of California millennial respondents have used home sharing services such as Airbnb.

“The Lake Tahoe real estate market is very desirable for cost and also lifestyle. You can’t buy a house in the (San Francisco) Bay Area for under $300,000, let alone a home that’s at the base of a ski resort, close to world class mountain biking trails and in a top-notch school district,” Jenna Palacio explained.

Palacio, who is also active with TRYP like Matthews and Middlebrook, has noticed a shift in millennials moving into the Tahoe area for the active lifestyle – and in doing so, have reshaped the culture to a sharing and collaborative society.