Providing housing in a tourism-based, mountain town economy has always been a challenge. And just when we thought it couldn’t get worse, the pandemic hit. In Tahoe Truckee, keeping enough housing stock both available and affordable for our workforce is becoming increasingly difficult. At every level of income, from the lowest wage earners through to the middle class, individuals are being priced out of the region as rents continue to skyrocket and supply fails to keep up with the demand. It is problematic when our workforce has to commute in and I-80 shuts down from the weather. The lack of workforce housing in the community impacts the entire economy when businesses close early or are unable to open at all.
The Mountain Housing Council (MHC), a Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation program and coalition, is made up of 28 community partners who have come together to focus on accelerating solutions to achievable local housing. Launched in 2017, MHC has developed a road map that focuses on alternative policy strategies and innovative solutions for the Tahoe Truckee housing crisis. In just three years, they have helped create new community co-housing, increased funding for new housing solutions, and are working to retain affordable housing units that already exist in the region.
“While we know that tourism and part-time locals are an important and valued part of our community, we have failed to keep pace to provide adequate and affordable housing for our workforce”. – Stacy Caldwell, CEO of the Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation
However, with the work of the Mountain Housing Council and other community partners, there is reason to be optimistic. As we write this, an exciting development is being finalized in downtown Truckee that includes 76 income-restricted rental apartments ranging from studios to three-bedroom units. As one of the first affordable housing developments in the region, the Truckee Artist Lofts are an example of how modular housing can provide a solution to increasing rent costs.
The Truckee Artist Lofts are the result of hard work on the part of many community leaders and institutions over the past 15 years. Early on in the process, TTCF connected partners and financing, leveraging community assets, knowledge, and support to get the financing needed for this housing project. The creation of affordable housing requires below-market-rate finance to enable cost savings that will trickle down to below-market-rate rents. That financial support comes in the form of state subsidy, but those funds are incredibly competitive and require a show of significant community support of financial backing and endorsement. Rural regions typically have a difficult time competing for these dollars because they don’t have access to the same amount of wealth and therefore don’t have the same leverage when competing for state dollars.
To compete for this state funding, TTCF partnered with three community institutions and formed a close partnership to leverage dollars in a creative way. The Martis Fund* is a local fund focused on preserving open space, improving forest health, and providing community benefits. Their Workforce Housing Fund supports projects that develop workforce housing solutions and improves the open space around current workforce housing. As part of their support for the Artist Lofts project, the Martis Fund made a $1.4m grant to TTCF with the purpose of investing into the affordable housing project. The Town of Truckee has been focused on finding solutions for the housing crisis, and as an active member of the Mountain Housing Council, they understand the need for more affordable housing in the center of Truckee. The Town was able to match the donation made by the Martis Fund and provided much-needed capital for the project. Finally, TTCF brought together $250,000 in impact investing funds alongside an additional $500,000 in philanthropic capital. By leveraging funds from all four sources, the Truckee Artist Loft project was able to compete for $14 million from the State of California. This was a crucial factor in being able to provide truly affordable housing for the people of Truckee.
“The community foundation is most interested in working across a wide spectrum of capital and institutional partners to solve some of the toughest problems the region has ever faced. We understand that it’s going to take sophisticated financial models to accomplish what we need as a community.” – Geoff Edelstein, TTCF Investment Committee Chair
The Railyard Project, including the Truckee Artist Lofts, has been in development for more than 15 years and is a vision of this community. The Railyard Project will emphasize the walkability of downtown and continue to build community through mixed use and local businesses. For Truckee’s restaurant workers, shopkeepers, artists, and key community workers the Truckee Artist Lofts mean a stable, secure, and exciting place to live that keeps them in Truckee and contributes to the longevity of our close-knit community.
*The Martis Fund is a collaborative project of the developers of the Martis Camp community and its members, Mountain Area Preservation (MAP), and Sierra Watch.