Title Photo: Erik Bergen, Placer County, Housing Fest – Oct 1, 2021: The Town of Truckee celebrates the opening of 288 new affordable workforce housing units. [1]

It’s no secret that two of Truckee’s most pressing issues are climate change and housing. Increasing the stock of affordable workforce housing and finding sustainable ways to live are intrinsically connected, whereby advancement on one of these problems also makes headway on the other!

Increasing Truckee’s housing density, measured by the number of people living on a given area of land, has the potential to unlock a panacea of progress.[2] As Carol Galante, director of UC Berkeley’s Terner Center for Housing Innovation, writes, “When denser housing is allowed, workers can live closer to their jobs, help save the planet by driving less and pay less in rent… because a bigger housing supply will lead to lower costs”.[3] Several projects providing higher density housing options have recently been completed and are ongoing, creating more places for Truckee residents to live while reducing our greenhouse gas emissions.

All Shapes and Sizes – Multi-Family Housing Units

In October 2021, the Town of Truckee celebrated the opening of 288 affordable workforce housing units in the Truckee-North Tahoe area. Three of these projects, the Truckee Artists Lofts, Coldstream Commons, and Frishman Hollow II are located in or near Truckee’s downtown, offering safe, high quality, affordable housing to members of our local workforce who make up to 80% Area Median Income (AMI) (learn more about AMI here). Coburn Crossing is another large scale, 138-unit multi-family housing development; 132 of Coburn Crossing’s units are offered at market rate rent and help to diversify Truckee’s high-density housing options. The Donner Lake 6 is a smaller workforce housing project consisting of studio and 1-bedroom units that will be built at the west end of Donner Lake. This project was designed to fit into a neighborhood of single-family homes and is an example of how high-density housing can be built in all sizes.

Donner Lake 6 rendering [4]

While each of these projects is unique, they are all multi-family buildings with significantly lower climate impacts than Truckee’s typical single-family residences. Low-density, sprawling housing developments emit greenhouse gases at four times the rate of higher density solutions, and research has found that when urban density doubles, carbon pollution is halved from household travel and residential energy use declines by more than a third.[5]

Location, Location, Location!

Studies show that when housing is located in walkable neighborhoods, residents drive a quarter less than they would living in sprawling areas.[6]  For this reason, Truckee’s 2040 General Plan update process has carefully considered opportunities for higher density housing close to services and employment centers.

The Truckee Artists Lofts, or TAL, is built on an infill on the eastern edge of the Downtown shopping area. Infill developments are designed within existing development patterns and constructed on underutilized lands. The California Governor’s Office of Planning and Research describes infill as “critical to accommodating growth and redesigning our cities to be environmentally- and socially-sustainable.”[7] Located in Truckee’s commercial center, residents of TAL have increased opportunities to make use of transportation alternatives such as public transit, walking or cycling, and conveniently live in a central hub of opportunities for employment, shopping, and socializing. TAL residents reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and are living green!

Coldstream Commons also offers residents ample opportunities to choose lower impact transportation options. Coldstream Commons, which provides residents indoor bicycle storage, was constructed in tandem with the creation of a new Tahoe Area Regional Transit (TART) bus stop and a pedestrian trail. The development is just a short bike or TART ride to Truckee’s commercial area on Donner Pass Road. Frishman Hollow II and Coburn Crossing are also just outside of Truckee’s downtown area, allowing residents to live convenient, comfortable, greener lifestyles.

Green Buildings: The Latest and Greatest

From construction to full occupancy, Truckee’s new higher density housing buildings have been designed to use fewer resources for their entire lifecycles. Frishman Hollow II’s five buildings, unlike traditional projects, are prefabricated modular units, meaning they are constructed prior to arriving at the development site and arrive finished from the factory framed, plumbed, wired. Pre-fabrication is far more efficient and climate friendly than typical building methods; waste is cut in half in a controlled factory setting due to reduced material byproduct and human errors that are common in outdoor, on-site building projects. Modular prefabrication also reduces the amount of energy used in the construction process, shortens build times, and minimizes worker travel to jobsites.[8]

Frishman Hollow II’s modular units ready to be fully assembled into the larger buildings – July, 2020 [9]

The Truckee Artists Lofts achieved a gold certification with the Green Point Rated building program by exceeding energy code by 10%.  It uses insulation made from recycled content, heats its water through a solar thermal system, and employs a host of other sustainable building methods that can be reviewed here. Similar to TAL’s certification, the Donner Lake 6 will meet criteria for LEED Silver, a sustainable building certification program (see more info on how projects meet those requirements here). At Coldstream Commons, the roof has a photovoltaic (PV) solar system, which uses solar panels to gather energy from the sun to power the building. The infrastructure is also set up to eventually connect an electric vehicle charging station to the PV system, so that cars can run on renewables. These high-density solar powered apartment buildings that are within or close to employment, shopping, and public transit opportunities really are special projects, as they provide housing to residents who in turn live lower impact, sustainable lifestyles!

Accessory Dwelling Units

The Town of Truckee is also working to promote the construction and permitting of accessory dwelling units, or ADUs. ADUs, known as granny flats or in-law units, are smaller dwellings built on the property of a larger, usually single-family home; they are either built into an existing house, above a garage, or completely detached as stand-alone structures. In recent years, the Town has built an extensive ADU program that informs homeowners on how to permit existing units as well as construct new ones. The Town also offers three funding assistance options for homeowners working on new or existing ADU projects. You can find out more about the $1000 mini-grant, the $15,000 loan, and $50,000 loan here.

ADUs offer an exciting opportunity to increase housing density in Truckee’s neighborhoods that consist largely of single family homes. In 2021, California’s Department of Finance estimated that of Truckee’s 13,670 total housing units, 13.4% (1,834 units) are either ADUs or multi-family developments.[10]  As the majority of a household’s environmental impact comes from its energy use, ADUs are by nature significantly more efficient than full size homes.[11]

Truckee has many ADUs that require minor modifications to be brought up to building code so they can be safely inhabited. By renovating existing dwellings rather than building completely new structures, homeowners create additional vitally important housing with a lower carbon footprint. Even when a new building is 30% more energy efficient than an existing one, it could take anywhere from 10-80 years for those efficiencies to offset the emissions that are byproducts of the construction process.[12]

Looking Forward Together at Truckee’s Denser, Greener Future

Numerous exciting projects are ongoing in Truckee to develop more sustainable, higher density multi-family type homes for our workforce!

On top of the 288 affordable units that were just added to our regional pool, another 95 units in higher density, energy efficient developments will become available once the Estates Meadows and Pacific Crest Commons projects are completed. Additionally, as more homeowners take advantage of the Town of Truckee’s funding options for ADUs, the Town will develop a larger stock of these energy efficient housing units. With projects like Donner Lake 6 progressing, all of these options create a variety of types of greener, higher density housing in Truckee.

State level policy is also paving the way for increasing housing density in Truckee.  The recently passed Senate Bills 9 and 10 create provisions that allow for increased housing density in Truckee. SB 9 allows a property owner to split their single-family lot either into a duplex or subdivision[13] and SB 10 permits local governments to change zoning that allows for up to 10 home units per parcel in transit-rich areas or urban infill sites.[14] Together, these bills could lead to an increase in smaller, energy efficient dwellings located centrally to our commercial and business areas in Truckee.

Achieving Truckee’s greenhouse gas emission reduction goals will require challenging, dedicated work in the coming years. Incorporating opportunities for increased housing density will be an important piece of the puzzle in our community-wide effort to confront climate change.

[1] Housing Fest – Oct 1, 2021: The Town of Truckee celebrates the opening of 288 new affordable workforce housing units.

[2] chapter-10.doc (irbnet.de)

[3] Opinion | After the Coronavirus, Cities Should Embrace Density – The New York Times (nytimes.com)

[4] Donner Lake 6 rendering

[5] Denser cities could be a climate boon – but nimbyism stands in the way | Climate crisis | The Guardian

[6] Denser cities could be a climate boon – but nimbyism stands in the way | Climate crisis | The Guardian

[7] Infill Development – Office of Planning and Research (ca.gov)

[8] Frishman Hollow II Set for Spring 2021 Completion – Alliance for Environmental Leadership (enviroalliance.org)

[9] Frishman Hollow II’s modular units ready to be fully assembled into the larger buildings – July, 2020

[10] E-5_2021_InternetVersion.xlsx (live.com)

[11] Environmental Benefits — Dweller

[12] Renovation vs. New Construction – EcoVision Sustainable Learning CenterEcoVision Sustainable Learning Center – Educating a Greener World (ecovisionslc.org)

[13] SB 9: The California HOME Act | Focus

[14] SB 10 – California YIMBY (cayimby.org)