OPINION: City of Reno Contributes to Housing Crisis

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motel inspection
Reno Police go after blighted motels with health and city code inspectors.

By Earlene Otto Ali

In Reno, local news media talk about the problem with the homeless. These unfortunate people haven’t asked to be in this position. There are numerous reasons for the dilemma. The people who are responsible for their plight is the City of Reno themselves.

Look around town. Bench seats have been removed so there is no place for them to sit. The homeless have been forced out of doorways and alleys. Citations are being given out to chase them from the river. The homeless have created tent cities in order to survive.

The City of Sparks does not seem to have this problem. So far, all any involved with the City of Reno has done is talk about a solution and search for others for the last three years. There are solutions. Very simple ones.

I know you are wondering how I can blame the city. I will give you some examples of what they do. The owner of Carriage Inn and Donner Inn were forced to sell their properties due to City Code Enforcement’s heavy handed tactics by fabricating complaints. These two motels were sold and are now closed. All of the people were forced out.

Code Enforcement comes in under the guise of complaints. They inspect the property, and when they leave, the owner is given a list of repairs. When they come back to reinspect, more things are found. Finally they clear the motel, but surprise — they come back again and again with more expensive repairs to be made until it becomes too expensive and frustrating that the owners are forced to sell.

Weekly motels have been shut down in a similar manner. In 1994, there were 24,000 rooms available in weeklies. Now, thanks to the city’s efforts, there are only 17,000 rooms available.

Yet, the City of Reno, Washoe County Health and the City Code Enforcement are continuing to harass small motel owners and putting them out of business.

Here is a simple solution: Form a citizen panel of business owners to arbitrate between the motel owners and the city as to what is really fair. That would stop the needless closure of motels.

The Mayor, Hillary Schieve, has located $1 million for blighted properties. The city could offer low-interest, revolving loans to those property owners so that money could keep circulating back into that account for the prime purpose of helping others.

This would then keep the motels open and provide more rentable rooms for the homeless.

If the City of Reno and City Code Enforcement would slightly relax their standards and work with each motel owner, these closed properties could be opened.

It is time for the City of Reno to stick with them and help.

Earlene Otto Ali is manager of Desert Sunset Hotel, which has been shuttered by the city for code violations.

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3 Comments

  1. Both Michelle D and the long-winded Adam ignore Ms. Ali’s central complaint: that overzealous and dishonest “code enforcement” mainly serves to create more homeless people. Yes, some, likely many, of our downtown motels are both ugly and “unsafe”. Yet, cynically ramping up “code enforcement” primarily to get a motel to close is devilish work. What is the purpose? To create additional “art” projects downtown to pacify our more delicate tourists? In what way are the homeless and the almost-homeless served by reducing our available housing? If everything Ms. Ali claims is true, then this is a scandal worthy of legal action.

  2. I want to preface this with saying that I am a strong believer in helping people, especially those with physical and mental disabilities that have no capability of caring for themselves. But I also consider myself an economic realist, and with that said, it is not the responsibility of the city to perform this help, only to assist in facilitating it as it is allowed by law. The city, as with all urban centers, has a very limited scope of tasks that it is supposed to be doing: gathering revenue via taxes, providing infrastructure, and determining efficient usage of existing lands in order to support the prior two items (gathering of taxes and providing infrastructure). That’s it. That’s the entire job of the municipal government, in a nutshell.

    Now, it’s great when the city/county/state CAN find ways to help people, but that is not the primary goal or even a secondary goal if we’re talking about required tasks. It is strictly a ‘want’ item to provide those helpful services whenever possible, and while we’re on this subject, let’s not discount the fact that NV actually does a moderate job in this respect (in most cases).

    But, even if those reading this agree with me on the above points, that still leaves the monumental question of, ‘What actually CAN be done?’ Seeing as how there is no country or city in the world that doesn’t have a homeless problem of some kind, I think it’s safe to say there is no perfect answer, yet. But some of the solutions that seem to have worked well elsewhere are: provide housing specifically for those not able to care for themselves and/or make subsidizing such housing easier for provider companies/non-profits; give tax-breaks and/or assistance to companies/non-profits that already perform many of these operations; and arrange community involvement in both gathering additional funds and making arrangements for the individual homeless in need.

    None of those things will help everyone, but reducing the number of homeless on the street will do a multitude of things which end up improving the city: reducing daily crime and general efficiency of police and emergency services, improving the image of the central core, and providing additional jobs in related fields (such as non-specialized caregivers). The difficulty, as always, is finding the money to make any of these things happen, and that’s where, as a community, we really need to get together and make decisions that are fair to both the government and businesses, and also to the residents and those we aim to help – in many cases elsewhere, this has meant going to businesses most impacted by the homeless (in Reno, that would obviously be the majority of downtown businesses and casinos), and ask them to voluntarily give toward some well designed projects – building housing where space is available, providing basic food & medication services, and so on. This both improves the environment around their businesses, but also has huge potential for positive marketing and word of mouth for these businesses.

    What we can’t do, because it is never successful, is try to bully the city into taking everything on with no plan, no money available, and no way of sustaining any improvements even if they managed to make them.

    Anyway, I’m no expert on this stuff, but I try to stay educated as best as I can, and this seems to make the most sense to me.

    TLDR: Get local businesses and residents involved, come up with a plan that works for everyone, and stop trying to force the city to magically come up with money to get it all done.

  3. Building Codes are in place for a reason. To keep buildings safe for those living in them. Whether it be health or structural related, if the city relaxed their code restrictions, the public would have a field day in the event of a disaster. Keep your properties up to code and you won’t be faced with closures.

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