Wendy Sullivan and Willa Williford of WSW Consulting offer their analysis of how we got here
On Friday, October 6, the Mammoth Lakes Housing Working Group will host an open house for community members wishing to weigh in on solutions to Mammoth Lakes’ housing shortage.
Feedback collected will be used to compile a Community Housing Action Plan, a document that principals Wendy Sullivan and Willa Williford of WSW consulting say will present concrete solutions to avert a local housing crisis.
The Action Plan draws upon data from the latest Housing Needs Assessment, which was completed in July 2017 by WSW. Friday’s open house will be the third public meeting WSW has hosted this year to gather input for the Action Plan, which the firm will present, completed, to Mammoth’s Town Council on November 15, 2017.
According to Williford, the goal of the Plan is to “create an ecosystem that fosters workforce housing.” Williford said that WSW, in conjunction with the Mammoth Lakes Housing Working Group, a group of 22 community member volunteers, has identified a handful of tools that could be effective in Mammoth Lakes. Those tools were presented at an August 17 open house,.
Among the strategies that participants in that workshop supported were: development fee waivers for affordable housing projects, in conjunction with fast track processing, which would give approval priority to new development projects that include affordable housing. Additionally, participants unanimously supported partnerships between public land managers and private developers to build homes on public land. Participants in the August 17 workshop also supported the development of a program to assist employers with managing properties for workforce housing, in conjunction with financial incentives such as mortgage assistance for employers seeking to create workforce housing.
There was unanimous support for developing a program that would provide property management services to homeowners in exchange for renting out properties long term that were previously vacant or operated as short term rentals. Also of note was unanimous support for a special tax measure to create a dedicated funding source for housing.
This week, Sullivan reported that employers currently provide over 140 employee housing units in Mammoth Lakes. Sullivan cited the town of Breckinridge, Colorado as a community with similar constraints on development to those in Mammoth Lakes, where public-private partnerships have been successful in creating housing for locals. “They have 2,000 deed restricted housing units reserved for local residents,” said Sullivan. “Seventy-five percent of that housing has been built through public-private partnerships… Many were built after the town donated or dedicated public land to developers… The town subsequently specified what type of housing they wanted on that land, and placed deed restrictions on the units,” said Sullivan.
Sullivan said that Mammoth Lakes’ housing shortage is not new. As part of the surveys WSW Consulting conducted for the latest Housing Needs Assessment, she interviewed one long-time local resident who said he served on a committee to address a workforce housing shortage in the 1970s. She said that the community has had a housing shortage since WSW first collected data in 2003.
When asked how we got to this point, Williford said a housing crisis is born when locals earning lower wages are forced to compete in the housing market against non-locals who earn their wages in a more competitive market. “A lot of your jobs are grounded in tourism, and service related jobs don’t pay a whole lot… You also have lots of people purchasing your existing housing, who don’t make their wages locally. As a result, they can afford to pay a lot more for housing because of that wage discrepancy.”