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City Council Mulls Affordable Housing Problem — Again


Advocates for the homeless protested at City Hall in 2015.

“We’ve done nothing but sit up here and talk about how important this issue is.” — Councilman Paul McKenzie

Affordable housing was top-of-mind — again — at yesterday’s Reno City Council meeting. Rent control, raising standards on weeklies, tiny homes, and decreasing wages all got airplay as serious problems and potential solutions during a lengthy discussion.

Assistant City Manager Bill Thomas.

Assistant City Manager Bill Thomas outlined potential priorities for dealing with Reno’s growing working-poor populations. He said the council needs to provide focus to staff on which issues to address.

Reno also needs a more affordable housing supply. Seniors, he said, have been particularly hard hit and are unable to compete for housing.

“In order to address this problem, we need direction from you, direction in the region, to focus on some particular part of this problem,” he requested. “Not that all the issues aren’t important … but we feel as staff, that given the resource limitations … if you want us to be successful in our efforts, if we pick a piece … of this problem to focus on we’ll have more success if we can focus on that than if we try to all of the things that need to be done.

“I think it’s just common sense,” he said.

Another concern was improving the safety and sanitation of the weeklies. Weekly motels are not set-up for permanent residence leading to unsanitary living conditions and code violations.

“We think we need to address weekly motels,” Thomas added.

Coucilwoman Neoma Jardon

Another area mentioned by Thomas was that wages decreased from 2006 ($59,000) to 2017 ($56,000) while rents are climbing fast.

It’s possible, he said, that rents, which have jumped from $848 a month average in 2007 to $1,100 a month in 2017, could ultimately overshadow actual income for Reno’s poor and those on fixed incomes.

A permanent overflow shelter is on hold as issues are ironed out, Councilwoman Neoma Jardon explained. She also called it a priority and advocated for tiny homes to help those just out of homelessness.

“Until we can do better, we better do something,” she said.

“There are developers that are doing great work in the community.” — Mayor Hillary Schieve

Councilman Paul McKenzie said he was frustrated by lack of city action in addressing Reno’s affordable housing problems.

Councilman Paul McKenzie

“It frustrates me that in almost three years on this council, we haven’t got anything done,” he complained. “We’ve come up with a whole lot of ideas, we’ve had staff spend a lot of staff hours, and we’ve made no decisions, no directions, we’ve done nothing but sit up here and talk about how important this issue is.

“Our homeless population is growing, not getting smaller,” he explained, a consequence of rising rents. “We have to create an inventory of housing that they can afford.”

Mayor Hillary Schieve countered that McKenzie needs to support such projects when they are presented to council for approval.

She cautioned against what she called “getting in the weeds and continuing having that negative message” and encouraged council members to work with developers.

“There are developers that are doing great work in the community,” she said. “I don’t want the public to think that we’re not doing anything.”

Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve.

Councilman David Bobzien echoed Councilman McKenzie’s frequent criticism of bringing jobs to the area that don’t pay affordable wages. He also expressed skepticism about governance issues around affordable housing.

“We all know this is the number one issue we are facing right now,” he said. “What concerns me, though, is that … this is an area that we could make ourselves really, really busy in and not actually have an impact.”

At the end of the discussion, the City Council directed staff to pursue affordable housing strategies, but no real action was taken. Staff will return to the council in the future with a formal plan.

“We’ve got to continue to have this conversation, so please be engaged,” Schieve concluded.

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Bob Conrad
Bob Conradhttp://thisisreno.com
Bob Conrad is publisher, editor and co-founder of This Is Reno. He has served in communications positions for various state agencies and earned a doctorate in educational leadership from the University of Nevada, Reno in 2011. He is also a part time instructor at UNR.