Thursday, December 22, 2005

Column 64 - Workforce Housing

Workforce Housing is a Good Deal for Incline

You run into some interesting attitudes around the North Shore. In last Wednesday’s paper there was a letter from a couple of Incline residents in response to a letter that had been published in the Tahoe World the week before. The letter in the Bonanza was outraged at the attitude expressed by the World writer toward locals – so outraged, in fact, that I had to look up the letter in the World, sure that the Bonanza writers were exaggerating. Well, they weren’t. The World writer, a second home owner, really did characterize locals as no-class low-lifes!

Then there is the Bonanza letter-writer who was outraged (again) at the idea that IVGID would discuss workforce housing. The Bonanza is running an online poll wherein something over 100 people have responded and that is running about 88% to 12% against the idea that employee housing is an employer’s responsibility, and this will undoubtedly be cited to support the view that workforce housing should not be being discussed.

I believe that the question in the Bonanza poll is badly worded. Without question, employee housing is not an employer’s responsibility, legally or morally, but that’s not the issue. At the same time, many employers have, when circumstances made it sensible to do so, provided housing. When I worked in the kitchen at a summer camp, we lived at the camp. When I worked at a hotel in the Catskills, we lived in employee housing and ate in an employees’ dining room. In the military, on-base housing is available, and other examples abound. Why do employers provide housing when they are not, technically required to? Because it is in their interest to do it, ensuring low absenteeism, high employee loyalty, and making it unlikely that weather or other factors will interfere with people being able to do their jobs.

I know from conversations I have had that there are more than a few people in Incline and other affluent areas of the North Shore who would prefer to keep this as the enclave for the privileged that much of the world believes it is. Everyone acknowledges that we need people to work here – to cook and serve and clean in the restaurants and in our homes, to stock the shelves at Raley’s, to fix our cars, tend our grounds and clear our driveways, but do they have to live here?

Yes, I think they do – for their sake and for ours. I am old enough to remember the lily-white suburbs and neighborhoods of the ‘50’s, with their genteel prejudice and their “gentlemen’s agreements,” and I would not return there, nor would I live in such a community in 2005, and it would be naïve to pretend that racism and economic elitism are not factors in the opposition to workforce housing. The editorial in last week’s Bonanza gave the statistics very well – Incline is in danger of becoming a retirement community for the rich and the very rich, and I for one will grieve and leave if this comes to pass.

The vitality and sustainability of our community require diversity – in our schools, in our social life, in our cultural base, and in our town. We need to have those who protect us – from fire and from crime, those who protect our health and safety, and those to whom we turn for services, to be living in the community and caring about the community as only one who lives here can.

Workforce housing is a good deal for the community, our businesses, and for those who will live there. It is short-sighted to oppose it, and those who do, if they are successful, will wind up living in an artificially structured environment with no one to talk to but themselves. More’s the pity.

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