Addressing Reno’s Housing Crisis (Opinion)

Homeless shelter in Reno
Reno’s homeless shelter. Image: OurTownReno.com

By Monica DuPea

This month, Reno was recognized for having the fastest job growth in the nation. However, instead of celebrating, most locals were concerned with those the job boom left behind – our displaced, our priced-out, and our down-on-their-luck. Like other residents of cities going through the kind of growth Reno is, many have been forced into homelessness and housing instability. Each night, our homeless shelter and our parking lot overflow shelters are full to the max.

The folks on the fringe, like our seniors, youth, and disabled, have only been pushed further from the opportunities necessary to sustain income-restricted situations and step out into the mainstream to grow as productive citizens. Many shelter residents report earning an income, yet they still can’t find attainable housing. “Attainable” means housing that is both income-based affordable and available.
 

Getting a grasp on housing and the required housing continuum to effectively address all the needs is a huge feat. What’s most critical now is that we get firm numbers on how much housing is attainable for those who require extremely low income (30% AMI), very low income (40% AMI), low income (50% AMI), and affordable housing (60%+ AMI).

Using the term “affordable housing” is not very helpful in determining how attainable, or affordable, a housing product actually is.

As compelled as we might feel to do it, we cannot continue to refer to all needed housing as “affordable housing.” This keeps the term vague and unhelpful in building enough of the right housing types. Currently, folks are referring to housing that charges upwards of 120% of AMI “affordable.” This means if you were making $41,200 annually, this “affordable housing” could cost you anywhere between $1,030 and $4,120 each month.
 
Primary sector organizations use shared housing terms and definitions provided by the Federal Government’s Housing and Urban Development Department (HUD) to describe the different housing types. Housing types include emergency shelter, specialized housing based programming, transitional housing, extremely low-income housing, very low income, low income, affordable and fair market.
 
HUD guidance also tells us specifically who each housing type is designed to target, income ranges and rent amounts, the suggested length of stay, as well as the kinds of activities that might take place in that specific housing type. Using this guidance would give us all a place to reset from and build a consensus around what our housing continuum will be. Ideally, agencies would provide their niche program optimally, so each client served would be working on goals that aspire them to the next housing level. Provider staff would assist clients with what they need to learn and do to prepare for a successful transition to the next housing type until they reach their highest potential.

Today, the area is 12,000 units short of housing needed by those making less than $20,000 a year (requiring 50% or less AMI housing). On top of that, we are almost 60,000 units short of housing for those making more than $25,000 annually (60%+ AMI). As you can see, using the term “affordable housing” is not very helpful in determining how attainable, or affordable, a housing product actually is.

Unfortunately, there are very few who are building for our most vulnerable. Without a land donation, projects with integrity just don’t pencil out. And, nothing short of an all-hands-on-deck approach, complete with sophisticated government engagement and an overall media communications strategy, is going to get it done. Nevada puts 15 low-income units on the market each year. At that pace, we’ll be caught up in 800 years.

About Monica DuPea

Monica DuPea is the founder and director of the Nevada Youth Empowerment Project and Truckee Meadows Housing Solutions. She is an expert on homeless youth and is pioneering a path to provide housing for our working poor. Monica has been recognized as a City Super Hero, a Reno Riveter, a Local Legend, and a Top 20 under 40 by the Young Professionals Network.

About Monica DuPea

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