Squeezed Out: What Happens To Companies When Employees Can't Find Housing

May 22, 2016

Vacation homes, like this one in Truckee's exclusive Old Greenwood neighborhood, account for more than 65% of housing stock in Tahoe and Truckee.

We started our series “Squeezed Out” by looking at how everyday people are being affected by the housing shortages in Reno and Tahoe, but today Reno Public Radio's Amy Westervelt brings us this story about the impact on local businesses.

"Hi, good morning. Today I'm going to talk as an employer of about 17 people in Truckee, about how the housing issue has been affecting us as a company."

That's Kristi Thompson, of MWA Architecture, speaking at a recent Good Morning Truckee. It's a monthly event for discussing local issues, and this time around, the focus was squarely on housing. Thompson went on to explain that her firm had hired six people from outside the region in the past few years, and that they had all struggled to find a place to live.

"Several of them moved into the condos at Northstar, because that was the only thing they could find," Thompson said. "And they immediately learned that everybody there was ski bums. They were loud, they were parting all the time, there were fights in the parking lot. It was affecting their work, because they were coming in exhausted, frustrated, stressed out."

The local police force has also been affected. Truckee Police Chief Adam McGill told the crowd he's losing officers because they can't afford homes in the area. Just in the last six months, he's lost two to the Placer County Sheriff's department.

"They felt it was more competitive and they could get the sort of home they desired. If that trend continues, we will become like most of the Bay Area -- and many of us came from there -- almost all of those cities are policed by people that are commuting 90 minutes or more, and we hear and see the struggles that those kinds of communities have.."

Kristi Thompson, of MWA Architecture, says one of her employees recently moved to Reno in search of housing. "They've found they can get more square footage for the money, and live in neighborhoods that suit young professionals. And that's frustrating to me. Now she's commuting up the hill."

Meanwhile, Reno is experiencing its own housing pinch.

"We pretty much haven't built new houses in almost a decade, since the downturn. In the meantime, jobs have been coming in, we've got more than 100 companies in the last four years, and many of those are bringing people in plus you've got just normal growth," says Mike Kazmierski, ‎president and CEO of the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada, or EDAWN. According to the most recent market data, there are not enough homes in Reno to keep up with demand.

That problem isn't going to go away as some of the companies EDAWN has helped bring to Reno start hiring in earnest.

"Of those 100 companies we've added, many of those jobs have not been filled yet. There are plenty of companies getting ready to hire. In fact Tesla's only hired a couple hundred people and they're gonna be hiring six thousand."

According to housing data firm Metrostudy, new construction in Reno is at a 10-year high, but there are still only enough new homes being built to meet one month's demand. Plus all that new construction has brought people into the area, too. Here's Kazmierski again.

"We've had a dramatic increase in construction - many industrial buildings, quite a few commercial buildings, and of course housing, too. A portion of that community will move to where the jobs are, so they come here and they're eating up temporary housing, especially apartments and condos."

They're not the only ones. The University of Nevada Reno has been adding an additional thousand students per year on average for the past few years, all looking for temporary, affordable housing in the region. Kazmierski says the result is more demand than supply.

"The private sector now believes there's a demand and is reacting to it, but there's a lag. We're gonna feel some pretty significant pain I would think over the next 18 months, and then we'll start to increase the supply to closer what the demand is and that will take some pressure off."

In the meantime, rents and housing prices are continuing to increase in both Reno and Tahoe as local and state governments grapple with setting policies that incentivize affordable housing.