It’s ironic that a town like Mammoth Lakes, whose workforce is continuously pressed to find quality affordable housing, seems to have no shortage of lodging for visitors. Many options available for longer-term living are simply out of the price range of those who work here, and would be more suitable to a family or group looking to relocate to a mountain town for the winter season.
The solution, some might argue, is building more units. But by the time those units are available, the need for housing will have grown accordingly.
Towns like Mammoth around the country, small, rural towns reliant on tourism and recreation for their economies, are combating similar housing crises in a variety of ways.
Truckee, Calif., perhaps Mammoth’s closest parallel within the state, launched the Town of Truckee Workforce Rental Grant Program in late October, 2020, and the success of that program provides a blueprint of sorts.
In short: the town has devised incentives for local property owners to change their short-term rentals/second homes into housing for the local workforce on 3-12 month leases.
The incentives come in the form of grants, ranging from $1,000-10,000, given to those who allow local employees to rent their properties/homes.
One employee on a short term (3-6 month) lease nets $1,000, 2 employees/1 with children nets $1,500, and 3 employees/2 employees with children is good for $3,000 extra.
Long-term leases (1+ year) result in grant amounts of $4,500, $7,500, and $10,000 respectively.
The program is part of a Truckee initiative to “unlock existing housing stock for local employees” and funded via Truckee’s general fund.
Grants are paid out in two installments, one upon lease signing and another when the lease is ended.
To date, the program has linked 36 residents to 20 rentals.
To be eligible for the program, 50% of the adults over 18 in the household must work at least 20 hours/week within the geographic boundaries of the Truckee Tahoe United School District. Households may not earn more than 150% of the area median income (AMI) on average, which is $97,050/year. Families with children may count them as additional household members.
Example: 2 unrelated adult local employees making $60,000/year each qualify as their average income is below the 150% AMI mark. An adult with a child earning $120,000/year qualifies for the same reason. One person making $100,000/year does not qualify.
Truckee partners with a local housing business, Landing Locals, to administer and market the program; Landing Locals connects vacation-homeowners with renters in areas where the majority of the housing stock sits empty during much of the year.
In addition to Truckee, Landing Locals operates in Big Sky, Montana, and Telluride, Colorado.
Colorado, it seems, is at the forefront of addressing workforce housing issues in innovative ways.
The town of Breckenridge passed a short-term rental license cap at the end of September, limiting non-exempt licenses to 2,200. The move angered homeowners and property managers, who argued that it would push business towards hotels and timeshares over locals, taking away their livelihoods.
According to a report in the Summit Daily, councilmember Jeffrey Bergeron took issue with complaints from the public.
“Just in this one meeting alone, I’ve heard ‘liar, ‘hidden agenda,’ ‘an embarrassment,’ ‘heartless,’ ‘no feelings for anyone’, ‘ruinin the town’-that’s just bull****,” Bergeron is quoted as saying, “I don’t think you guys want to run the town … give us all the benefit of the doubt that we don’t want to ruin the town.”
After that comment, he apparently made comments of his own to the crowd, which he later apologized for.
In the Telluride area, the Telluride Foundation has piloted a homebuilding program that aims to drive down costs on every step of building a new house. They start with securing land, often by donation, ensuring that they are ready with utilities, and pre-fabricating homes in Denver to then bring to the area.
Homes are income and deed-restricted to residents who work in the area for nine months out of the year, with the most expensive homes clocking in at just over $300,000.
In early June, Crested Butte’s town council declared a local housing disaster which allows the town to bypass provisions in the municipal code. That means rapid approval of residential uses in tourist areas, suspending a rule that requires two parking spaces per unit, and reduced limitations on camping and RV occupancy on private property within the town limits.
Crested Butte also capped short-term rentals, limiting them to 30% of all homes in the town, an amount close to 212 properties. In addition, license transfers undertaken during property sales/transfers can be suspended.
And in Dillon, the town council opted to increase short-term rental license fees from $50-$250 and to limit units to two occupants per bedroom plus an additional two for the unit so as to reduce overcrowding in existing units.
Later this month, Dillon Town Council will discuss capping the number of short-term rentals in town, and an excise tax on in-town lodging.
Back in California, Truckee is also developing a Below Market Rate Housing Program that offers rental/for sale options to the local workforce by creating a separate, deed-restricted home inventory that only qualified applicants may live in.
Developers and homeowners could apply to the program to “sell” a deed restriction to the town. In exchange for accepting a deed restriction, the owner/developer receives funding to be put towards a mortgage, home improvements, etc.
All of these towns are facing housing and workforce shortages that are undermining the economic gains of tourism.
If that at all sounds familiar, it’s because that exact scenario has been playing out in Mammoth Lakes all year.
Just last week, Eric Clark, Mammoth Mountain Chief Operating Officer, said during a Mammoth Lakes Tourism board meeting that the ski area has a housing waitlist of approximately 120 employees.