Consultant: Douglas needs cheaper rentals |

Consultant: Douglas needs cheaper rentals

by Scott Neuffer

Douglas County needs more affordable rentals for both elderly and low-income residents, according to Rex Massey of Research and Consulting Services, Inc.

Charged with updating the housing and population element of the 2011 Master Plan Update, Massey recently presented his findings at two public workshops, one in Carson Valley and one at Lake Tahoe.

“Strong population growth over the past several decades means that the influx of people into Douglas County is disproportionately older than the existing population,” Massey stated in the report.

Of Douglas County’s total population, 20.2 percent is now 65 or older. That’s up from 15.2 percent in 2000, according to the report.

As the senior population in the county has climbed, the number of young families has declined.

For example, family households with children under 18 dropped from 5,032 in 2000 to 4,714 in 2010, or from 30.7 percent of total households to 24 percent.

Average household size dropped from 2.5 to 2.38 over the last decade.

“The Douglas County population is older with declining family household formations, lower school enrollments, and smaller household size,” the report said. “The recent ‘housing bubble’ resulted in a migration of affluent retirees and accelerated the transition from full-time permanent residents at Lake Tahoe to more seasonal and part-time residents and second-home ownership. At the same time, relatively high housing prices in Douglas County possibly created an economic barrier for many younger working age households, particularly those with children.”

According to the report, the composition of housing in Douglas County disproportionately consists of detached single-family residences – 73.9 percent of total housing stock. Attached single-family residences, such as townhouses, make up 12.7 percent, mobile homes account for 7.7 percent, and multifamily apartments only 6 percent.

However, although multifamily units are scarce, renters still make up 28.2 percent of the county’s housing population, including those who rent single-family homes.

Massey argued that the county needs cheaper rental options. Only 11.2 percent of current rentals cost $600 or less per month. In contrast, about 23 percent fall within the range $1,000 to $1,249 per month.

Exacerbating the shortage of affordable housing is a shortage of land available for such projects, Massey found. Under current zoning, not including receiving area, there are only 125 acres in Douglas County available for multifamily development.

“Available land and development costs could be impediments to affordable rental housing development,” Massey reported. “Additional multifamily residential lands should be made available for apartment construction. Higher density residential options have not been utilized in Douglas County. More elderly and disabled affordable housing units are needed.”

Those subpopulations, however, are not the only ones in need.

“More traditional apartment rental units are needed across all income ranges,” the report said. “Total homeless population could be as high as 1,350 in Douglas County.”

As a caveat, homelessness doesn’t necessarily mean people are living on the street, only that they don’t have their own address. Massey reported that the Douglas County School District had estimated 195 students are homeless, including many who have “doubled up” in another’s home.

“It is difficult to build an apartment building that low-income people can afford: subsidies are often required,” the report stated.

Douglas County Planner Brandy McMahon said the new housing and population information would be included in the 2011 Master Plan Update draft, which will be presented to planning commissioners in December and to county commissioners in early January.