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South Lake Tahoe community torn on proposed vacancy tax

Proposed vacancy tax divides talk on how to solve South Lake Tahoe housing crisis
Proposed vacancy tax divides talk on how to solve South Lake Tahoe housing crisis 03:04

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE — South Lake Tahoe is grappling with how to solve the housing crisis – but not everyone agrees that a vacancy tax is the solution.

The grassroots effort to impose a penalty on homeowners who let their residences sit empty for more than half the year is picking up steam. There are 1,159 total signatures needed from registered voters by April 10 to make it on the ballot in November.

Amelia Richmond is behind the South Lake Tahoe Vacancy Tax. She is the president and co-founder of Locals for Affordable Housing and said the effort to impose a tax would help preserve the fabric of the community.

"We need to find some sort of way to shift the incentives in order to have a thriving community," Richmond said. "So, the goal of the vacancy tax is to incentivize more occupancy of the homes we already have, and for those that wish to keep their homes empty most of the year, they can pay an annual contribution to our community."

According to a copy of the ballot measure online, that contribution is:

  • $3,000 per vacant residential unit for the first year of vacancy
  • $6,000 per vacant residential unit for the second consecutive calendar year and each subsequent

There would be penalties for those who are not honest about their occupancy for the year.

According to Tahoe Vacancy Tax advocates, census numbers show 44% of all housing units sit empty for more than half the year, an increase from 33% two decades ago.

"So what we're seeing is our teachers, our nurses, our firefighters are having to move away, either to commute or many move away permanently," Richmond said. "Because they can no longer make the math work here, even though they're working good-paying jobs."

The argument from people who don't support taxing those who own second vacation homes is that it unfairly targets people who have worked their whole lives to have the property.

"I definitely do support doing something about affordable housing, but not this," Bob Walker said during the February 27 city council meeting public comment period. "It hits just the secondary homeowners who have worked our life to get our secondary home."

Richmond said it's not meant to be a tax on secondary homeowners but rather a way to put funds back into the local economy.

"There is a cost to the community when properties sit empty. Now that nearly half of all housing in our community is empty most of the year, I think every homeowner wants to live in a thriving community," Richmond said. "You can look at communities in Colorado and Utah, where essentially the entire workforce has been pushed out and so what you end up with is a shell community that doesn't have the same vibrancy. It doesn't have the same local culture."

The organization is still gathering signatures and says the final vacancy tax measure will be the result of a community-collaborated measure that everyone has a chance to weigh in on.

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