By Grant Sims
As we discuss the “Missing Middle” in our region’s housing, it’s equally important to recognize the “Missing Voices.”
The missing voices of working families and young professionals desperate to find affordable housing. The missing voices of employers who increasingly recognize the need for good and affordable housing in the community to support their recruitment of excellent workers to keep our economy vibrant. The missing voices of our future, the young people who depend on the wisdom of today’s leaders to ensure that a well-balanced, economically sustainable community will allow them to pursue their dreams of a rewarding life in Northern Nevada.
Many of the good people whose voices are missing remember the pain that accompanied the region’s economic devastation not even a decade ago. Tens of thousands of people lost their jobs. Thousands lost their homes to foreclosure. At the depths of the Great Recession, many called Reno “The Detroit of the West,” and few argued with them.
But visionary leadership and untold hours of hard work turned the economy around. Parents who worried how they would pay the bills found good-paying jobs. With economic security, they turned their attention to building stronger families and stronger neighborhoods. Reno and Sparks have seen this truth: Quality of life begins with a good job.
Our failure to meet our region’s housing needs, however, threatens the hard work of the past decade to build a stronger economy, stronger families and stronger neighborhoods. If hard-working families can’t afford housing, potential employers will move to other cities that take more seriously their responsibilities to house residents.
Reno today is growing by more than 7,500 people a year. But we are issuing permits for only 2,100 new homes. The results are predictable: Families can’t find homes that meet their needs. Housing costs outstrip incomes, even for some of the good-paying new jobs that have arrived in recent years.
Reno and Sparks can answer the missing voices in an environmentally sustainable fashion. Using innovative engineering design, we can preserve floodplains, enhance natural stream channels and wetlands and provide neighborhoods where the natural world is a centerpiece for family life. The professionals creating tomorrow’s communities in Reno and Sparks have demonstrated time and again that responsible development actually can enhance floodplain and wetlands management.
Properties on steeper grades, the hillsides above floodplains, typically require substantially higher costs to prepare sites for construction. That, in turn, pushes the cost of new hillside homes above the prices that most working families can afford. New homes that aren’t affordable for middle-class families fail to answer the call of our community’s missing voices.
Creation of new neighborhoods helps build a sustainable economy of higher-paying jobs that will lift our community, our educational system and the future of our children. It is not a nuisance created by greedy developers.
We must listen to those missing voices. The housing discussion in our community is not an ivory-tower debate. It’s about the creation of homes where children can sleep well at night, where parents need not worry about unaffordable rent or mortgage payments, where employers know they can attract and retain top talent.
The missing voices call us. Will we listen?
Grant was born and raised in Reno. After getting his degree in Political Science he has worked in a variety of government jobs including being elected to Reno City Council and Washoe County Commission. Grant has been married for 40 years and has two grown children. He is bringing forth this op-ed to shed light on the housing issues we are facing in Northern Nevada.
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