AFfordable & Achievable Housing

Sierra Business Council is dedicated to weighing in on housing policy in legislative, budgetary, funding, and policy implementation in an effort to find solutions to the affordable housing crisis in the region.

Amidst a housing crisis occurring across the western U.S., the Sierra Nevada’s housing availability, or lack thereof, is unique. From the factors that severely affect many tourism destinations, including the impacts an increase in second homes and short term rentals (STRs) has on the local housing inventory, to the limited funding available for housing projects in rural mountain communities, to the high cost of permits and shortage of developers and subcontractors available to advance housing opportunities in Sierra communities, it is imperative that policymakers at every level of government understand one size does not fit all in addressing California’s housing crisis. 

Below are some of SBC’s recent affordable and achievable housing policy priorities. 

Rural inclusion in major transit-oriented development legislation 

Ensure that the successor to SB 50, a bill that would seek to spur affordable housing development across the state by increasing density limits within a certain distance of a transit stop or job center, has provisions that provide benefits to rural communities and rural regions of counties with 600,000 or more people, in order to reduce affordable housing pressure on adjacent more rural regions. This could be achieved by requiring these regions develop housing plans that meet the SB 50 requirement but increase flexibility to achieve the objectives. Recommend that in counties of less than 600,000 people lower density thresholds be established with even more flexibility to achieve the goals.  Suggest also supporting inclusion of provisions in SB 50 successor that encourages the conversion of appropriately identified single family residential units to duplex, triplex or fourplex configurations and allow for zoning overlay districts that would multi-family residential on previously zoned single family residential lots.    

Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) financing

Build on ADU policies approved in 2019 by supporting financing solutions aimed at promoting the construction and utilization of ADUs. Financing solutions to support ADUs could include revolving loans, grants, or tax credits implemented at the state or local levels and could support homeowners seeking to build ADUs and/or local governments seeking to encourage ADUs. Several issues should be considered when evaluating potential solutions, including: How to tie financing to meeting the local regional housing needs assessment? What kind of terms and conditions need to be placed on those units to ensure that housing is remaining achievable, and funds are not misused to finance guest quarters, rather than long term housing units?

Low Income Housing Tax Credit calculation / HCD rural policy

Recommend changes to the Low Income Housing Tax Credit Calculation to make it more appropriate for rural communities through an in-depth and meaningful conversation with HCD around their programs and how they can be more applicable for rural areas. Goals could include increasing the number of regions identified as priority for the funds, or seeking an increase to the current set aside funding to $500 million in rural regions. This is currently a budget issue, due to the fact that such an increase would entail taking that $500 million away from urban communities due to the fact that funds are anchored by federal block grants. The current approach is problematic because rural projects are sidelined by the existing competitive framework. 

Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities Program (AHSC) rural project considerations

Currently the greenhouse gas reduction benefits from AHSC projects take vehicle miles traveled into account by converting the annual VMT reductions to annual GHG emission reductions, estimating air pollutant emissions, and calculating the GHG emission reductions and air pollutant emissions over the life of the project, 30 years. The current model used to determine GHG emissions misses the key consideration that rural residents drive farther for their healthcare, education, and groceries, as well as big ticket purchases (appliances, cars). There does exist a national model for this calculation which could be utilized by the state, but SBC has become well-adept in recent years at calculating VMT reductions for Sierra projects. Additional modifications to AHSC programs could include a definition of ‘infill,’ with a rural consideration for the fact that the ‘three sides must be Currently Developed qualified Urban Uses’ rule can be problematic in mountainous areas due to natural topography. Finally recommend advocating for the development of a rural measurement methodology that credits contributions toward meeting future public transit headway goals.   

Short Term Rental (STR) Ordinance – Statewide Policy 

There is increasing anxiety over Short Term Rental units, and how they impact overall housing availability and affordability in the state, especially in terms of greater economic impacts such as worker availability, percentage of wages spent on housing, and social equity. Building an understanding and policy recommendations for a state-wide approach to Short Term Rentals that would assist local jurisdictions in their management and implementation of STR regulation is imperative to addressing California’s housing needs. Policy opportunities include limited STR zoning within jurisdictions, additional taxes, and incentives for converting STR units into long-term rental units.

Post-disaster housing recovery fund

Support state rural affordable housing groups proposal for the creation of a one time $1 billion post disaster recovery fund to rapidly deploy resources to rehouse residents after disaster related losses. California’s recent disasters have been catastrophic and unprecedented, and are projected to be only the leading edge of the increasing risk of wildfire and flood related events in the region. Current disaster recovery resources from the federal government are insufficient, inflexible and unreliable. 

Support a three pronged approach that includes:

  • Flexible Block Grants – $600 Million: One-time funding for grants to cities, counties, tribes, and nonprofit organizations to supplement federal CDBG-DR funds needed for the acquisition, rehabilitation, and new construction of emergency and permanent housing and rental and relocation assistance. •
  • Bridge Funds – $300 Million: One-time funding for short-term loans by Community Development Financial Institutions to nonprofit and public affordable housing developers for acquisition, predevelopment, and construction of replacement homes to be replenished by CDBG-DR when funds become available. 
  • Housing and Climate Resiliency Grants – $100 million: One-time funding for resiliency planning grants to cities, counties, and tribes to fortify and protect existing homes, mitigate threats to new homes, and preserve and increase supplies of homes that are both climate-resilient and affordable to lower-income residents.  


Remove barriers to implementing deed restriction program for locals housing

Vail is successfully implementing the Vail inDEED Program which incentivizes homeowners and real estate buyers/sellers to deed restrict their property to primary residents who work a minimum of 30 hours per week in Eagle County. Interest exists among some Sierra jurisdictions to explore how a similar program could achieve our tourism-dependent communities’ housing goals. Legislation may be necessary to remove barriers to making such a program feasible and consistent with California fair housing laws.  

Related Work:

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The Sticky Intersection of Wages and Housing

After publishing part 1 of this housing series, a reader commented inquiring about the impact wages have on the relative unattainability of housing in rural areas. I thought it was a great place to dig into for my second piece on the subject.

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Martis Fund Homebuyer Assistance Program

In partnership with the Martis Fund, Sierra Business Council administers the Martis Fund Homebuyer Assistance Program, which provides down payment assistance to help income-qualified working families in Placer County east of Donner Summit or in the Town of Truckee purchase homes.

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