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Placer County Affordable Housing Plan Updates

Facing increasingly tight access to affordable housing like much of California, Placer County took action to develop an affordable housing work plan for the entire county and joined the Tahoe Truckee Regional Housing Council toward setting a regional housing strategy for the North Lake Tahoe area, specifically.

District 5 Supervisor and Board Chairwoman Jennifer Montgomery will represent Placer County on the council and the county will contribute up to $50,000 a year to its efforts under an agreement approved by the board of supervisors at their recent meeting in Auburn. The board also directed county staff to develop a housing work plan to accomplish a number of recommended actions presented to them in the meeting.

"We need to start thinking out of the box and start thinking beyond the traditional single family home and apartments or condos in highly dense construction. We need to really think about all possible avenues for home construction," said District 5 Supervisor Jennifer Montgomery. "We need to blow up our preconceptions about what development is, and what a home is."

Under state law, local jurisdictions are required to develop policies that facilitate the development of housing for all income levels as part of their general plans. Placer County's current housing policy for the western side of the county requires 10 percent of the homes built as part of specific plans meet affordability standards. Projects that request changes to the county general plan, or individual community plans, are also required to provide 10 percent affordable units, or pay an in-lieu fee to the county to be used for the development of affordable housing.

Housing policy in eastern Placer County, including North Lake Tahoe, focuses on the availability of workforce housing. Development there must provide enough housing to accommodate at least half of the workers the project is expected to bring into the community. Developers can meet this requirement by building affordable housing as part of the development itself or off-site, provide land for the purpose of building affordable housing or pay an in-lieu fee.

Placer County has taken a number of recent steps aimed at increasing the supply of affordable housing, including relaxing zoning requirements for secondary dwelling units and partnering on several affordable housing developments. A 56-unit affordable housing development is planned in the Martis Valley south of Truckee to satisfy the workforce housing requirement of the soon-to-be-completed Shaffer's Mill development.

Housing affordability is especially challenging in Tahoe due to its tourism-based economy and a large percentage of seasonally-occupied and second homes. Last fall, Placer contracted with the firm Host Compliance to help ensure lodging providers are collecting lodging taxes from their guests. Initial analysis shows that only about half of providers who are required to collect lodging tax are doing so - a possible indication that the short-term rental market is limiting housing availability for area residents and laborers. Last year, Placer County collected just over $16 million in lodging taxes.

"I think there are some real opportunities with the host compliance process that we're going through now, that's clearly going to generate what I would characterize as unanticipated (transient occupancy tax) that may well be redirected to infrastructure in the form of housing," Montgomery said. "I think that's something we should really think seriously about and follow up on."

The board provided feedback on numerous options under consideration ranging from incentives and regulations to partnerships, with a view towards both the short and long term. Supervisors expressed support for implementing a wide variety of strategies - a "menu" that could be adapted for different parts of the county based on need. They recommended exploring an array of non-traditional housing varieties, from so-called "tiny houses" to cohousing, and potentially using a formal study and stakeholder feedback to develop an in-lieu fee program that would standardize how the county determines fee amounts, currently negotiated project by project.

Supervisors also expressed interest in incorporating process streamlining measures, and asked that staff explore options ranging from prioritizing affordable housing proposals in the review process, to using prototype plans to expedite development.

Placer also intends to apply for some of the $2 billion in state funding that will soon be made available to provide more housing for the homeless or mentally ill. Staff are expected to return to the board with a housing work plan in the coming months for further consideration.

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