Above: An artist’s rendering of the Sugar Pine Village affordable housing project under construction in South Lake Tahoe. The 248-unit affordable multifamily housing project consists of four phases and will be deed-restricted to affordable rates.

By Cindy Gustafson

“Livin’ the Tahoe Dream!” has been a standard response to the casual check-in greeting between basin residents for a very long time. The “dream” may entail something a little different for everyone. Ingredients may be the enjoyment of Tahoe’s vast outdoor recreation spaces, the incredible changes of season like the one we are experiencing now, or the different pace of life. For many, the Tahoe dream is simply having a great place to work and raise a family. In just a few words, a sense of community is established among all who care for Lake Tahoe.

“Livin’” in Tahoe, however, depends on having access to an affordable place to live. The meteoric rise of housing costs is hurting Tahoe communities. When fewer people live here year-round, local businesses struggle to find staff and to weather the shoulder seasons, and more local workers need to travel from outside the region to get to work, which also increases greenhouse gas emissions and adds to traffic congestion.

The housing shortage also greatly impacts Tahoe’s Latinx and underrepresented populations, which exacerbates social inequality and threatens some of our most disadvantaged residents. Solutions to Tahoe’s housing crisis are needed to protect our irreplaceable environment, improve equity, strengthen our economy, and to reinforce our sense of community.

The announcement this month that site work has begun on the 248-unit Sugar Pine Village affordable housing project in South Lake Tahoe is one more piece of much-needed good news. The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA) and many public and private-sector partners are coming together around initiatives and programs that are moving housing solutions forward at an unprecedented pace.

With broad support from public agencies and non-profits, the developers of Sugar Pine Village were able to begin site preparation this month for the first 68 affordable housing units scheduled to move to vertical construction in May, 2023. A similar vision is taking shape on Dollar Hill east of Tahoe City where Placer County has purchased an 11-acre site and is developing concepts for the site that will bring more achievable workforce housing to North Lake Tahoe.

Numerous smaller projects are under construction, including 14 market-rate rental units on South Shore near Barton Hospital and three deed-restricted moderate-income homes being built by St. Joseph’s Community Land Trust, who is also a partner of the Sugar Pine Village project. California’s Project Homekey program is also making a big difference in our communities. In Kings Beach, a Homekey grant is helping convert 14 tourist accommodation units to supportive housing units for at-risk and unhoused community members. The project is repurposing an aging motel while making scenic and water quality improvements in the town center. At locations on South Shore, the program has acquired 70 older motel units for conversion, which have already given shelter to every one of the community’s unhoused veterans, among others.

Additionally, more homeowners are adding an accessory dwelling unit, or ADU, to their property for long-term renters under a code amendment TRPA made last year. Since last October, 13 ADU permits have been issued under the new rule, which significantly expanded the number of properties in the Tahoe Basin that can add an ADU.

The innovative ADU amendment and other potential policy changes are coming forward from the Tahoe Living Workforce Housing and Community Revitalization Working Group. TRPA continues to convene working group to help draft additional policy updates to land coverage, height, and density standards that could encourage much-needed investments in workforce housing.

By creating a collaborative framework around housing solutions, TRPA is building positive momentum and strengthening partnerships. The agency was awarded $600,000 in housing catalyst funds from California’s 2021 Regional Early Action Planning Grants and is working with partners and the Governing Board to select projects for funding that help address regional housing needs and climate goals.

In addition to TRPA’s work, partner agencies in the basin are bringing significant resources to bear through cash incentive programs. Placer County’s homebuyer assistance program gives local homebuyers up to 16 percent of their home’s purchase price towards a down payment in exchange for deed restricting their home so that it can only be occupied by local workers. Also, Placer County and the City of South Lake Tahoe have created Lease-to-Locals programs that will pay qualifying property owners up to $10,000 or $24,000 per year for signing long-term leases with local workers and families. Find out about these programs at www.landinglocals.com.

Ensuring that more diverse people and local workers can make a home in Tahoe strengthens our sense of community and creates more opportunities for us to share our passion to protect Lake Tahoe. I encourage you to join us in our work to make Tahoe a place where anyone can afford to work, reside, and live the Tahoe dream.

— Cindy Gustafson is Chair of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency Governing Board and District 5 Supervisor for Placer County.