Interview: Tahoe's Lack Of Workforce Housing

Jun 28, 2018

The housing crunch is being felt across Northern Nevada, but up in Tahoe, the community faces a unique set of challenges. Seventy-eight percent of the homes in the Tahoe area are either vacation rentals or second homes. Meanwhile, many of the people who work in Tahoe can’t afford to live there. Heidi Hill Drum is the CEO of the Tahoe Prosperity Center; she spoke with our reporter Tim Lenard.

KUNR: Heidi, thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me.

Heidi Hill Drum (HHD): Of course!

KUNR: In the area of workforce housing, what are some of the major challenges your organization is working to solve?

HHD: Our primary objective is to develop a workforce housing demonstration project. Ultimately, taking some of those old motels and tearing them down and rebuilding higher-density, two [or] three-story workforce housing. But it’s 25 years worth of history of, you know, trying to do the right thing for the environment, and what has suffered is the community and the economy. Now we're trying to sort of adjust that but we want to do it in balance, so that we promote the right type of development here at the lake and the right type of housing that we need.

KUNR: Your organization recently released a report on economic trends in Tahoe and one of the things that really struck me was that over a quarter of the people who stayed at the winter homeless shelter in South Lake Tahoe were employed. Is the problem for these workers low wages or high home prices? Where are you focusing your efforts?

HHD: Its both, and we are focusing our efforts on adding more housing to the community and, that, we think, will open the door for a lot of these workers to find appropriate places to live. Right now, I have a friend who is working full time in our community. She's had a full time job for more than six months; she makes a pretty good wage, you know, not a high wage but definitely more than minimum wage certainly, and yet she can't find an apartment that rents for less than $1,000 a month.

The affordable housing that we have in Lake Tahoe right now has three-to-five year waiting lists and that's not something that a lot these folks can do, so they’re living in these motels or they're moving off the hill for more affordable housing.

KUNR: Without any substantive changes, what could the workforce housing market look like in Tahoe in, say, ten years?

HHD: Without any substantive changes, I think we will see a lot of businesses close. I was at Heavenly Village at New Years Eve this year at nine pm and Coldstone Creamery was closed because they didn't have enough workers to stay open until midnight that night, on one of the busiest nights of the year. We have to address this issue, and not just for small businesses like Coldstone Creamery, but for our school districts who need teachers and our hospitals that need workers.

KUNR: So, for people with those jobs, are there any promising projects on the horizon?

HHD: We've been talking to a number of local developers who want to do good projects. Too many times in our current system, you have a proposal for a good workforce housing project [but] it doesn't pencil; there's too much of a gap. So, what the developer ends up doing is they go back to the drawing board and they look at what will pencil and it tends to be million-dollar condo projects, which we don't really need any more of up here at the lake. What we really need is the general workforce housing options for our community.

KUNR: Heidi, thank you so much for talking with me.

HHD: Tim you're very welcome, thank you.

KUNR: That was Heidi Hill Drum. She is the CEO of the Tahoe Prosperity Center.