Affordable housing matter of money

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The issue of affordable housing at Lake Tahoe, particularly on the North Shore, continues to baffle the many players who say they are lobbying for "what is best for Tahoe."

A unanimous decision by the 14-member governing board of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency on June 27, recanting the May 24 moratorium on subdividing certain parcels of land, once again threw a curve ball to some of the players at bat.

Among those players, some real estate developers in favor of providing affordable housing claim the TRPA is putting the burden on private property owners and developers to finance lower-cost housing, according to Vince Scott, a real estate broker with Fred Sands Realty, in Incline Village.

"Builders take a loss to do affordable housing because land values are so high," said Scott.

Scott pointed to Tahoe Mariner Resort and Residences, a plot of land in Crystal Bay that had been protected for affordable housing.

He claims the plot is designated as a preferred site for affordable housing and without the continued protection, it is up for grabs by private developers who are likely to build luxury condominiums.

Linda Johnson of the Affordable Housing for Washoe County, differs.

"Funding is the only difference" between affordable housing and other housing, Johnson said.

She said the agency funds partnerships, gives tax credits and monitors projects annually.

"We get federal monies for our jurisdictions and believe developers should consider building affordable housing. The housing competes with the private sector and is sold for the best price possible. This is not cheap housing," she said.

Washoe County Affordable Housing received $1.8 million for this fiscal year, and is authorized to provide $150,000 in rehabilitation work for Incline Village houses in need of repair.

"If a need is proven, there will be more money next year," she said.

"So far we have done no affordable housing in the unincorporated areas of Washoe County and that's Incline Village," Johnson said.

Scott said developers would be more likely to construct nice, entry-level housing if given tax credits, bonds and low interest-rate financing. He also cited other agencies that could become involved in the issue.

As it turns out, Washoe County Affordable Housing isn't the only place developers can go for tax credits and financing help.

The Affordable Housing Resource Council, a nonprofit agency, provides technical assistance to developers. It helps identify financing sources and walks them through the procedures for applying for funds.

"We haven't yet worked on a project at Lake Tahoe," said Eileen Piekarz of the council.

"It's challenging to develop affordable housing anywhere," she said, "and it's even more so at the lake because of higher costs and regulations," she said.

Piekarz cited a project recently approved through the Rural Community Housing Corp. in Sacramento for construction in Kings Beach, , and another project under way now in Stateline.

"It usually takes two years of preparation for an agency to put together a project and make it a 'go,'" said Piekarz.

What South Lake Tahoe has done that has made the difference is hire a staff person to oversee affordable housing, she added.

Patrick Conway is the housing and economic development coordinator for the city of South Lake Tahoe.

"I obtain grant funds from federal and state programs," he said.

He cites the agency's most recently completed project, a 70-unit apartment complex, Tahoe Valley Townhouses.

He obtained a $3.5 million grant through the state for HUD money plus $7 to 8 million through the nonprofit Rural California Housing Corporation.

"The developer also got some of his own financing at a rate of 6 percent from the California Housing Finance Agency," said Conway.

He said they often rehabilitate existing buildings, sometimes replacing almost everything.

As long as the units are rented at an affordable rate based on income restrictions, funds are available, Conway said.

"The trend is to build fewer units, less than 50, so they are not over-concentrated in an area," said Conway.

This includes single- and multi-family units, duplexes and triplexes.

If HUD requirements are met, he said, the TRPA's regulations need not be met, except for height and coverage.

Having a governmental agency based solely at the lake helps, rather than a county that's spread all over, said Conway.

Lon DeWeese, head of the Nevada State Housing Division, said the state allocates funds based on local government's requests.

"We provide 50 percent of the bonding authority" for funding of affordable housing and give a 9 percent tax credit that's competitive statewide," DeWeese said.

The TRPA has no bonding authority, he added, but Washoe County does. He said the state agency is the facilitator, they make sure the funds go where they're supposed to go.

In the case of a $5 million project, he said, there would be a 75 percent debt of $3.5 million.

"If local government paid one and three-quarters million dollars, the state housing department would match it if it met the underwriting criteria," DeWeese said. "Think of us as the bank at the end of the road."

Mary Lou Bentley, executive director of the Western Nevada Home Consortium, said the nonprofit consortium has a project in the works, the Lake Vista apartments at Stateline, the agency works only with property on the Nevada side.

"We're tearing down 60 units and replacing them with 24," she said. "There is a misunderstanding about what affordable housing is."

What it is not, is Section 8, subsidized housing.

The consortium began as a response to HUD's giving Nevada the minimum amount allowed for housing subsidies to a state. The consortium has raised the amount of federal funds Nevada can receive, she said.

Bentley said the California portions of Lake Tahoe developed differently. "There, cabins had been built for summer vacations, which can now be converted; there isn't the same thing in Nevada."

Bentley said availability of land is always problem.

"If the forest service would release some holdings for developers to build affordable housing, it would help," said Bentley.

Peter Eichar, planner for the TRPA, said the agency's land-use element has a sub-element of housing. California law requires 20 percent of housing funds go toward affordable housing, he added.

The TRPA is not an implementing agency, but it is a governing agency, Eichar said.

"TRPA has jurisdiction, but only local governments can implement affordable housing," Eichar said.

The agency is meant to be a partner with local government. A committee made up of representatives of its six areas of jurisdiction was created at the June meeting. Jim Galloway represents Washoe County; Larry Sevison, Placer County; Hal Cole, South Lake Tahoe; Kay Bennett, Carson City; Dave Solaro, El Dorado County; and Don Miner, Douglas County.


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