South Lake Tahoe Voters to Decide on Taxing Vacation Homes an Extra $6,000 Yearly

South Lake Tahoe Voters to Decide on Taxing Vacation Homes an Extra $6,000 Yearly

Supporters of the vacation home tax say the number of vacant homes in South Lake Tahoe has risen 56 percent since 2000. Meanwhile, home prices and rents have also skyrocketed. (Jill McLaughlin/The Epoch Times)

Jill McLaughlin
Jill McLaughlin


Updated: 6/18/2024


SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif.— Local voters will decide in November whether to impose a yearly tax of up to $6,000 on homes left vacant for more than six months of the year.
Local grassroots organizers of the vacancy tax ballot initiative say the new tax could bring in $34 million each year for housing, transportation, and other programs.
But a coalition of local organizations and residents opposes the idea and has formed a political action committee to fight it.
“We’re going to do everything we can to educate people as to why this is worse than a bad idea,” said Steve Teshara, director of government relations for the Tahoe Chamber and a member of the coalition. “It’s like taxation without representation.”
Some homeowners in South Lake Tahoe who would be subject to the additional tax don’t live locally and won’t get to vote on the measure.
Modeled after a similar vacancy tax in Berkeley, California, the measure requires owners of vacant houses left unoccupied more than half the year to pay $3,000 the first year and $6,000 annually thereafter.
Amelia Richmond, co-founder of Locals for Affordable Housing, the grassroots campaign behind the initiative, said the city needs the tax.
“We must enact common-sense policy that shifts the market incentives away from vacant second-home ownership and puts us on the path to be both a thriving community and destination for all to enjoy,” Ms. Richmond told The Epoch Times in an email. “A community can’t sustain itself with nearly half of homes sitting empty for most of the year.”
A major sticking point for opponents of the tax is the lack of clarity on how the revenue will be used. Above, a South Lake Tahoe souvenir shop. (Jill McLaughlin/The Epoch Times)

A major sticking point for opponents of the tax is the lack of clarity on how the revenue will be used. Above, a South Lake Tahoe souvenir shop. (Jill McLaughlin/The Epoch Times)

The idea isn’t new in California. Berkeley, San Francisco, and Oakland voters have passed similar programs since 2018.
Locals for Affordable Housing says the number of vacant homes in the popular winter and summer destination has increased by 56 percent since 2000. Home prices and rents in the city have also skyrocketed since the COVID-19 pandemic.
“More than 7,000 homes currently sit empty for most of the year while local families are being priced out of our community, and teachers, nurses, and firefighters struggle to find housing,” Ms. Richmond said.
The group says the increase in vacant second homes has outpaced all housing construction, leaving the city with fewer homes for residents, many of whom work at local casinos, hotels, and motels.
The organization argues the vacancy tax would help stem the skyrocketing costs of housing by incentivizing homeowners to keep their residences occupied, and would provide funding for new affordable housing.
The language used in the initiative, however, does not earmark any received revenue specifically for affordable housing. The funds can be used for a variety of programs, including housing, rental and homebuyer assistance, insurance assistance, rental incentives, and affordable housing development, according to Ms. Richmond.
The lack of clarity on how the funding will be used is a major sticking point for the measure’s opponents.
“There is nothing in the measure that sets aside, or calls out, one nickel or one penny for anything to do with affordable housing,” Mr. Teshara said.
He added that the city would have to create a “massive bureaucracy” to run the program, which would require every homeowner in the city to prove that they have lived in the home more than half a year for the past five years.
If the ballot measure passes in November, the group opposing it is already planning to sue.
“We believe it’s illegal on any number of levels, and we want to make sure it does get litigated if it passes,” Mr. Teshara said.
Five organizations fighting the tax include the Tahoe Chamber, South Lake Tahoe Restaurant Association, South Lake Tahoe Lodging Association, South Tahoe Chamber of Commerce, South Tahoe Association of Realtors, and Tahoe Keys Property Owners Association.

Jill McLaughlin is an award-winning journalist covering politics, environment, and statewide issues. She has been a reporter and editor for newspapers in Oregon, Nevada, and New Mexico. Jill was born in Yosemite National Park and enjoys the majestic outdoors, traveling, golfing, and hiking.

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