by Betty Yu

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE (KPIX 5) — The Lake Tahoe you see in the vacation ads usually features the famous, pristine lake, snow-capped Sierra Nevada mountains, luxury beachfront residences and nearby ski resorts.

The Tahoe you don’t see has blocks of rundown, cheap motels that have become the last resort for the everyday workers who support the local economy.

“I have to move every three weeks, even though I do work full time,” said South Lake Tahoe resident Christine Grissom.

Nearly everything Grissom, her 11-year-old daughter and her husband own fits into one suitcase.

“We have been floating. The housing is the issue,” Grissom said.

Showing KPIX her motel room, she pointed to the bed where she and her daughter sleep. Her husband sleeps on the floor.

They have been living this way for the past nine months.

“You know what’s scary is I am the normal and that’s the hard part. You’ve seen what I’ve seen in the Bay Area, I lived in the Bay Area, the majority of us are a half a paycheck away from being on the street,” she said.

Grissom spent a year living at an Oakland homeless shelter with her daughter at night while she worked full time delivering mail for the United States Postal Service in the East Bay. She came to Lake Tahoe in search of affordable housing and found work as a Safeway cashier and a bus dispatcher. Today she makes $32,000 a year as a clerk at the El Dorado County recorder’s office.

“You work and you’re homeless. That’s ironic to me, I just never thought it was going to be this way — especially being an American,” she said.

In South Lake Tahoe, for example, where Christine lives the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment is about $1,600/mo., according to RENTCafe. The median home price is about $420,000 according to Zillow.

Heidi Hill Drum runs the non-profit Tahoe Prosperity Center, which works to promote economic and community development.

“It is worse than I’ve ever seen it. I’ve lived here for 20 years,” explained Hill Drum. “It’s the tale of two Tahoes — is sort of how I describe it — there’s the beautiful lake, the beautiful mountains.”

About 75 percent of the homes in the Tahoe Basin are second — vacation homes. In the affluent Tahoe Keys neighborhood, for example, it’s not uncommon to see empty houses. A 4,500 square foot lakefront property on Beach Drive is listed at $6.5 million.

Tahoe gets an estimated 250,000 visitors on weekends and the basin sees upwards of 15 million visitors a year, according to Tahoe Prosperity Center.

“Some of our solutions are taking underutilized properties, old blighted motels … and turning them into useful, workforce housing,” said Hill Drum.

KPIX checked out the Traveler’s Inn in South Lake Tahoe. A renovated motel room with no kitchen is being rented for $1,000 a month, with a $500 security deposit.

The owners are converting the motel into a complex called Manakai Apartments.

“A lot of them that I’ve been finding are local workers, most of them live on Stateline, working in the casinos, restaurants around here,” said Lawrence Wells, manager of Manakai Apartments.

For what they’re offering, the rate is not in Christine’s range.

“In all honesty, all I want to do is work 40 hours a week, have four walls and a pizza. I just don’t want to see the carnage of our economy anymore,” said Grissom.

WEBLINK: Tahoe Prosperity Center