By Theresa Bohannan
During a recent telephone town hall event with U.S. Senator Dean Heller, a young woman asked about rising rent prices in the Reno/Sparks region. If you don’t know, Sen. Heller conducts “tele-town halls” instead of in-person town halls for a couple of reasons. First, he can conduct them from Washington, D.C., with his staff guiding him and he can select who he wants to talk to. Second, he has been on the record as saying he does not like all the booing that occurs at town halls and views them as a box you have to check. Third, he can mute people and not listen to their rebuttal.
The woman who asked the question told the Senator that she, in fact, had seen her rent rise $200 overnight. Anyone living in the region is aware of the issue of rising rent and low availability of affordable rental properties. Finding a decent place to rent for $1,000 or less per month is almost impossible. Some have said that Reno is turning into the Silicon Valley of Nevada. Well, as someone who had to temporarily relocate to Palo Alto, I do not want to see that in my hometown. Finding affordable housing in that area is next to impossible and it is quickly happening here, with few leaders offering solutions.
So, what was Heller’s response you might wonder? He started off by acknowledging the issue as “a good problem to have” because of the large economic growth in the area. He droned on about how Nevada’s economy has done so well under this new administration and tax cuts. Well, tell that to the college student looking for housing, or the working families looking for a safe neighborhood to raise their kids, or the veterans and seniors living on fixed incomes who have been increasingly pushed into homelessness because of the housing shortage.
For those more fortunate, it has been a “good problem to have” because they have seen their net worth grow tremendously. But for the working poor in our region, times are tough. Reno rent prices have become outrageous, and without real solutions more people will be forced out of the area or into homelessness.
Heller went on to explain how if we just started selling off public lands we could build more houses. Is that so Senator? That is all our region needs — more urban sprawl and $400,000-plus houses. That will solve the problem. Except who will build all those homes and where will they live?
And how does that solve the problem today for people who need affordable housing? Heller offered no immediate solutions to the young woman’s question but did state he was hoping to introduce a bill to create an “affordable housing task force.” I attempted to find information about this so-called task force but could not locate any. And why do we need another task force Mr. Heller? There are local groups that have already worked on this issue and developed reports with actual solutions.
Senator Heller’s response indicated his lack of awareness of abject social issues that the City of Reno faces and his preoccupation in advancing the net worth of wealthy individuals in Nevada. He never provided a coherent answer as to why there is no rent control in Reno or Sparks. He spoke little of low-income housing or what federal monies he could help bring the region for those type of projects. In fact, Heller spoke like a person who was not familiar with the daily struggles of Reno/Sparks residents trying to find affordable housing. Mr. Heller may not understand what it is like to be a renter in the region because he does not live in Reno and owns multiple properties, some in California — a place he rails against becoming when campaigning.
If you are concerned about your rent in Reno or Sparks, Heller has no solutions outside of task forces and selling off our beautiful surrounding public lands.