Building on Collaboration
Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation (TTCF) launched the Mountain Housing Council (MHC) in 2017 based on a collective impact model, coordinating the efforts of 29 partners throughout the region.
Six years later, while the housing crisis still persists, we can look back at a number of successes that allowed us to create innovative tools to confront a problem that once seemed intractable.
According to several of the people who have played key roles in this effort, it was a deep commitment to collaboration that empowered MHC to adopt a winning strategy to tackle the daunting issue.
Alison Schwedner, TTCF’s Community Collaborative Program Director, says this spirit of cooperation spurred innovation.
“We created a unique space for the various jurisdictions and entities who are involved with developing housing solutions for our region,” Schwedner says. “Our partners came together to learn about what each other was doing, and found opportunities to innovate together, and to problem-solve together, in a collaborative forum.”
Kristina Kind, who has served as the Mountain Housing Council Program Coordinator since August 2020, points to a number of substantive programs and policies that have come into being since MHC’s founding.
“The collaborative work really has led to some of the innovative programs that we’re seeing now,” Kind says. “These include the relaxing of restrictions on accessory dwelling units, or ADUs; grant programs that pay homeowners who bring new long-term rentals to market; and resources to attract funding, such as a parcel measure in the Town of Truckee and a Tourism Business Improvement Tax (TBID) in Placer County.”
All of this work was built on a solid foundation of reliable data drawn from a Regional Housing Needs Assessment, jointly commissioned by Nevada County, the Town of Truckee, and Placer County.
“The collaboration of these jurisdictions on a unique study focused exclusively on our Tahoe Truckee region was the first of its kind,” says Stacy Caldwell, TTCF’s CEO. And it produced some alarming results. “As TTCF walked the study to all the different institutions throughout the region, the discovery came with an invitation: let’s do something together!”
Over the years, different teams and working groups came together to accelerate solutions. Alongside a Regional Housing Implementation Plan, significant community efforts advanced, including the Truckee Tahoe Workforce Housing Agency, and the Housing Hub…both targeting unique opportunities to address gaps in the system for creating more housing.
The Right Housing Developments
Kristi Thompson of the architecture and engineering firm MWA feels that MHC’s superpower involves bringing people together—a skill she calls “convening.”
“Just getting people in the same room, or on the same Zoom—getting folks out of their silos and making them aware of each other— that’s what made this work,” Thompson says. “Because we can be so much more powerful and efficient if we are all talking to each other.”
Thompson recalls that prior to MHC, she was serving on a housing committee for a contractors association, working with a local municipality on rules governing the development of affordable housing. Throughout the region, these rules vary widely on developments that are just a few miles apart. She points out that the Housing Hub will bring consistency to an industry that practically requires it.
“The Hub is working with developers directly to educate them and assist them along the way with regulations, with funding, with finding land, etc.,” Thompson says. “This is going to be a long-term permanent addition to our community.”
Creating Housing Security
Paul Bankroft is Executive Director of Sierra Community House, the primary provider of emergency rental assistance in the Tahoe Truckee region. Demand for such assistance has spiked by almost one thousand percent, and Bancroft credits MHC with creating precisely the kind of response that this dire situation required.
“This is an action-oriented body of invested individuals and entities working toward strategies that are going to have long-term impacts,” he says. “There’s a lot of work to be done, but Stacy and her team have created the vehicle to move that work forward.”
Looking toward the future, thanks to his position serving folks in crisis, Bancroft says it’s imperative that the region’s neediest neighbors not be forgotten. He praises efforts to provide housing opportunities for the “missing middle”—working professionals who earn too much to qualify for public assistance but not enough to rent or buy a home—but he is primarily focussed on folks who are “barely hanging in there.”
“There has to be investment in increasing the stock for affordable housing,” he insists, pointing out that all of the affordable housing units in the area are wait-listed.
A Strong Foundation
Housing is one of the most complex issues that communities around the country are facing. And yet, through MHC, the landscape for regional housing has changed significantly. With many of the partners connected and aligning efforts, along with the new Truckee Tahoe Workforce Housing Agency and the Housing Hub, the partners of Mountain Housing Council are taking a pause to reflect and think about what is next.
“The Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation recognizes that the issue of housing isn’t solved and remains an urgent need in our community. There remains a value in getting everyone aligned and coordinated,” Kind says. “As the new entities get established and funding streams align, the strong relationships and collaborative spirit that has been built across MHC will be important foundation for our region to continue to make progress for our community and workforce.”
Mountain Housing Council: A Community Building Homes
In 2016, the topic of housing topped the agenda at a Community Collaborative of Tahoe Truckee meeting. Many of the partner nonprofits which focus on family strengthening, health, and human services, claimed they couldn’t focus on their mission because of the looming housing insecurity that was impacting their clients.
It’s true… it’s very difficult to think about pressing matters like your kids’ education or your own career path if you are worried about where you and your family will sleep.
At that meeting, TTCF agreed to pull together a conversation with the various entities in charge of land management and housing development to get a sense of the challenge within our unique region—a community of 35,000 people (then) that spans a mountain range, crosses three different jurisdictions, and contains more than 17 special districts.
At that meeting, the three municipalities of Nevada County, the Town of Truckee, and Placer County decided to move forward with a Regional Housing Needs Assessment. The collaboration of these jurisdictions on a unique study focused exclusively on our Tahoe Truckee region was the first of its kind.
As a result, that Needs Assessment depicted a pretty alarming situation in which we could see the impact of housing instability on our local workforce and the personal challenges such instability brought upon our community. As TTCF presented the study to the many different agencies and organizations throughout the region, an invitation was offered: let’s do something together!
While TTCF was unsure how interested potential partners would be to engage, we were certain that something needed to be done…leadership needed to be aligned, strategy needed to be developed and resources needed to be dedicated. In 2017, TTCF launched the Mountain Housing Council. Based on a collective impact model, 29 partners signed on to participate over a three-year period of time. Over the years, MHC partners have committed to participating in quarterly meetings together, and served on a myriad of working groups (called Tiger Teams) to focus their attention on seeking innovative solutions and tracking progress.
Tiger Teams, intended to be short information gathering sprints coalesced around different topics: understanding impact fees; short-term rentals; mapping available public lands; redefining what “affordable” means for our community, all with the goal of quickly assessing the situation and level-setting the realities on the ground. Standing Working Groups, intended to be long-term focused included the State Policy Working Group; the Homelessness and Supportive Housing Working Group; the Housing Funders Network; and more.
Phase Two: A Solid Plan Emerges
The first three years of working together helped level-set our understanding of the problem, learning where there were gaps, and where there were potential solutions. In 2020, after the first three-year commitment, the partnership agreed to renew their involvement for another three years. During this time, they expressly wanted to work on implementation.
Together, we created a Regional Housing Implementation Plan (RHIP). This plan articulated a vision for new solutions that focused on gaps in funding and technical assistance for housing developers.
Simultaneously, our partners and the community at large were moving forward with amazing new programs and local funding sources. These included a successful ballot measure in the Town of Truckee and a Tourism Business Improvement Tax (TBID) in Placer County. Policy changes started emerging in all the public agencies tackling different solutions such as housing preservation through deed restrictions, diversifying the housing stock with density bonuses and ADU funds, promoting shared housing with incentives and helping ease regulations that can stifle the development of new housing.
It must be said that over the years we have seen how slow and complicated this work is. We cried together in meetings, and watched as our neighbors and coworkers were forced to leave the area. We lamented that we couldn’t seem to move this work along fast enough.
Then, we’d have another inspiring quarterly meeting—a time when we could see the faces of all the smart, committed people who care. Folks who have built this big task into their work plan, even though their job descriptions aren’t focused on housing. They got it.
We were excited to see a new housing agency take root as a collaboration among a few public agencies, now expanding their efforts for the entire regional workforce. Simultaneously, a concept that took root in the Regional Housing Implementation Plan, the Housing Hub, was also gaining traction among a key group of stakeholders. This unique concept focuses on coaching and advocating for non-traditional housing developers, who are focused on the right housing projects for our workforce needs.
Finding Our Way Forward
Today TTCF is heartened to see the political will, community engagement and financial resources that have been built for housing. Is it slow, complex and often frustrating? Of course. We are talking about the health and resilience of our community! Can we say that we have focused our energy and attention to make the right decisions, collectively, together, and to design the best strategies to move forward? Absolutely.
Now, as the second three-year term of MHC is winding down, with our last formal meeting happening in April, we are assessing where we are at—where we are at as TTCF, and where the community is at to best continue solving this problem. With the two new organizations submitting their 501c3’s, and much talk about aligned efforts and leveraged resources, we recognize that our leadership might transition into a different role.
Still, we know this problem hasn’t been fully resolved. We know that we will need to continue to monitor and track the realities in the community, advocate with our state legislators for funding and programs that work for our region, and continue bringing our community together from time to time to ensure we are making progress and moving forward.
The housing crisis is a national crisis, now impacting communities across the country. TTCF is often contacted by our peers in other rural or mountain communities, asking for the playbook of how this region has accomplished so much in such a short amount of time.
To someone dealing with the day-to-day challenges of staffing a business or stabilizing your family, this might not ring true to you. However, rest assured that the Tahoe Truckee community has a significant advantage in our investment to build a network of institutions and leaders committed to collaboration, aligning our different strategies and leveraging our resources…together.