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Housing Costs, Low Wages Hurting Tahoe Residents

Rennett Stowe

The Lake Tahoe region is experiencing higher housing costs and stagnating wages for its workers. That's according to a recent economic prosperity report. To learn more, Reno Public Radio's Noah Glick chatted with Heidi Hill Drum; she's the executive director of the Tahoe Prosperity Center and one of the people behind this report.

While many of the findings from the recent Measuring for Prosperity Report were not ideal for the Tahoe area, Heidi Hill Drum and the Tahoe Prosperity Center were happy about one thing.

“The best thing about the report is that we actually have data now that we can refer to,” Drum says. “It’s good data; it’s updated data. And we hope that anyone who can use this kind of information will access it.”

Drum says that the biggest challenges facing the Tahoe economy are workforce development and housing costs. Some of these issues are tied to an economy that relies heavily on part-time wages from the tourism industry.

“The goal is actually how to diversify our economy so that we’re not so dependent on tourism,” Drum says. “So when there are years such as the drought that we’ve had, we’re not so dependent on that income that we may have gotten used to in the bigger winter years.”

And as Drum says, there are growing opportunities in the area. 

“Tourism is always going to be number one, but the other two are our health and wellness sector and our environmental innovation sector,” Drum says. “And I think given the change in technology, given that we are focused on bringing in high-speed internet into the Basin and other efforts, the environmental innovation cluster is probably the one that has the most opportunity.”

But the report also came with its share of surprises.

“The housing cost-to-income ratio for Tahoe was higher than even San Francisco,” Drum says. “San Francisco’s housing-to-income ratio is 8-to-1 and Tahoe’s is 10-to-1. That’s primarily due to the lower wages.”

Even so, Drum says the region is moving in the right direction.

“The fact that we’ve seen a population increase, the first in 15 years, is a positive sign that maybe folks are starting to look at Tahoe as a region that’s viable to live and work and play.”

Noah Glick is a former content director and host at KUNR Public Radio.
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