A means of providing workers with housing

People who serve as the teachers, law enforcement, fire/safety, and county employees of Douglas County should be able to live in our community. That seems like a simple enough proposition. And yet, the economic realities of our area have made that simple proposition much more complex than might appear at first glance. The quality of life we enjoy in Douglas County is a delicate balance of the beauty of our surrounding landscape, the economic engine that provides jobs and housing for our residents and lower tax rates to our population. As we consider quality of life in our community, workforce housing is emerging as one of the key concerns for families and employers. Many of the law enforcement, teaching, fire/safety, and county employees work here and are unable to live here. The stress this produces on both the families and the employers is substantial, and Douglas County is already experiencing difficulty in the hiring and retention of the affected employees.

Already here in Douglas County we have seen the effects of this wage/housing imbalance. The Douglas County School District, the Douglas County Sheriff's Office and Douglas County itself have all struggled with attraction and retention of quality employees. It is an increasingly common story of having a teacher or law enforcement official start here in the county but have to live in Carson City or Lyon County because of housing affordability. Then, once a job opening occurs in the community in which they live, they determine to work where they live. Just as we want our children to attend schools close to their homes, people in general would prefer to work and shop where they live. The environmental, social, economic, and cultural consequences of these decisions are affecting Douglas County in a negative way.

Douglas County is not alone in grappling with having an ample and balanced housing inventory for the various economic levels within its community. Indeed, quality of life in Douglas County is what draws many people to live here. However, in order to sustain our quality of life, we must achieve the balance of employment opportunities (to keep our taxes low and services high) among other quality of life factors.

Employers who wish to locate here in the county often look at the quality of the workforce and workforce housing as primary determinants of whether to locate in Douglas County.

There are specific provisions within state law and within the existing county master plan to address the issue of workforce housing. Yet until recently the mechanisms with which policy makers could address those concerns were limited. However, there are some specific measures that can be implemented to address this aspect of quality of life in our community.

Recently a group of concerned citizens has begun to develop one specific vehicle to address the concerns of workforce housing in our community. Sierra Nevada Community Housing, a Nevada non-profit corporation was established as a faith-based community land trust to assist our county to provide workforce housing in our county. In short, a community land trust allows for donations and other funding sources to purchase existing homes or new homes and separate the home from the underlying land. The underlying land then remains the property of the trust and continues to enable market value homes to be sold for below-market rates. The homeowners are allowed to benefit from any appreciated value of the home, but the home price will remain below the market rate because of the land being separately held. Studies of this approach have demonstrated a typical home ownership period of seven years and two-thirds of the owners then moving from a community land trust home into market-rate home in the same community.

The time is now for our community to address workforce housing as part of our quality of life indicators. Sierra Nevada Community Housing will be holding a series of gatherings for employers and interested parties in May of this year. Interested parties may contact Kevin Trevithick at kevin@cvcwired.com or Gary Williams at svreverie@charter.net for Sierra Nevada Community Housing.

-- John Jackson is the senior pastor at Carson Valley Christian Center.


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