By ALEXIS OLLAR
In the midst of our locals’ housing crisis, is any housing good housing? From a land use perspective, no. While our region is in need of true and meaningful workforce housing, our infrastructure, environment, and public safety need to be taken into consideration during the land use planning process. We should look at a variety of solutions to our housing predicament. It seems as though high-density development or market rate, locally deed-restricted units are the focus of most land use discussions right now. Many of us in the arena of housing and smart growth development agree that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to our crisis. We need to be creative in order to address housing while working within the limits of our environment.
High-density housing in appropriate areas is one solution. Density can be done right, as long as the parcel and its surrounding infrastructure align with the proposed project. While no development project is perfect, projects like Domus in Kings Beach, or Frishman Hollow and Henness Flats in Truckee are good examples of density. These projects provide meaningful housing options for our service industry, which is the lifeline of our community. The future workforce housing at the Railyard, The Artist Lofts, is another good example of high-density infill development, locating 77 affordable units in the heart of downtown Truckee, near services and transit.
But high-density housing is not the only solution. We need to investigate alternative ways to unlock our existing housing stock. Currently, the Town of Truckee has more than 7,000 housing units that are vacant or seasonally occupied. From a land use perspective, opening up existing housing stock for long-term rentals makes sense. Towns like Vail, Colorado have similar housing issues. Knowing how important their workforce is to their tourist-based economy, the town has created incentives for second homeowners to deed restrict housing units for long-term local rentals. Much like our region, there are land use limitations when considering new development. If we could utilize existing housing for long-term rentals of second homes, we could create a win-win for the second homeowners who are willing to participate in a deed restriction program, while creating rentals for locals and minimizing growth-related impacts. For more information on how this works in Colorado, go to vailindeed.com.
Other solutions are down payment assistance, helping first-time homebuyers purchase housing. Currently, the Martis Fund provides funding for this program and to date, the program has housed 26 families. Additional housing alternatives are the development or permitting of Accessory Dwelling Units. ADUs can provide housing to locals while offsetting the cost of owning a house, but not all HOAs allow them. Both Placer County and the Town of Truckee are looking at ways to streamline ADUs as another facet to providing housing in our region.
Lastly, a hot topic item in the world of housing is up-zones. Currently, the Town of Truckee is in the midst of the 2040 General Plan Update, looking to rezone parcels for increased density. This will be a very important public process for the community to participate in. While we are in dire need of locals’ housing, up-zoning parcels for increased density should be analyzed carefully in order to determine the carrying capacity of the parcel and how to address traffic, building heights, parking requirements, climate change, and wildfire safety. Density everywhere is not the solution. Let’s be thoughtful about where and how we build. We have a very special environment, which generates our tourist-based economy. We cannot sacrifice the character of our mountain community by planning in a vacuum. Get active in land use planning and the housing discussion and stay informed at mountainareapreservation.org
~ Alexis Ollar is the executive director of Mountain Area Preservation, a 32-year-old environmental advocacy nonprofit located in Truckee. She is currently serving on the Town of Truckee General Plan Advisory Committee.