By Kelsey Penrose
A new city advisory board is forming to focus on the challenges facing renters in Reno’s current housing market. Reno Councilmember Jenny Brekhus is spearheading creation of the “Tenants Issues and Concerned Citizen Advisory Board,” and appointments are being made for citizens to serve on the board.
“We updated the master plan about three years ago and there was general surprise when we learned that renters in Reno make up almost 45 percent of the population,” said Brekhus. “It was a very ‘oh wow’ moment.”
After realizing that a large part of the city of Reno is made up of renters, both short- and long-term, the City has looked to increase the number of multi-family units to provide for the growing population of renters.
But building alone isn’t enough. Brekhus and the council wanted to make sure that renters have a voice in the city, and the housing market.
“We’ve never had a conversation focused on the issues that renters face and right now, they’re facing a lot in this climate of escalating rents and growth and limited supply,” said Brekhus. “It’s important to have a conversation specific to the concerns of tenants and renters, and to have a more broad view of the rental marketplace at large.”
Lack of affordability is no surprise
For anyone familiar with Reno’s current housing market and the challenges both renters and buyers are facing, the need for the formation of this kind of board should come as no surprise.
According to the most recent study done by FreeandClear.com, a mortgage information site, Washoe County ranks 67th out of 3,142 counties nationwide for the least affordable housing market. For the last few years, Washoe County, which includes the cities of Reno, Sparks, and Incline Village in Tahoe, has been a seller’s market, which means there have been more buyers than there are houses available. This is great for those who want to sell property, but the opposite for those looking to buy.
People experiencing homelessness feel the burden of Reno’s growth the most. For example, a new apartment complex touting “resort living” amenities broke ground Thursday in West Reno.
The Westlook Resort Living Apartments project will offer 192 luxury units, which will not include any affordable units. The site where the project’s construction is underway previously housed 80 units in low-cost motels. Those lost affordable housing units have not been replaced elsewhere.
The decision to create the advisory board is both simple and complex. The first step is to identify issues and challenges renters and tenants are facing in the current market. Then, apply solutions if possible, said Brekhus. And if solutions are impossible for the city itself to impose, then the board will turn to the next legislative session in 2021 to voice their concerns.
“We’ve never had the conversation on the rental housing market, and I’m hoping it will help to foster general understanding of the rental market and also allow the sharing of stories,” said Brekhus. “There have been so many tenants that have reached out to us in the last five years on the council, and I want there to be room for all of them. There are also many long-term local property owners who are renting to people and have been doing almost charity work in caring for their long-term tenants and making sure people are safe and aren’t gouging them for rent.”
The numbers don’t shake out
Affordable housing is defined as spending no more than 30 percent of household income on rent. According to an affordable housing study issued by the City of Reno, the most rent someone making under $30,000 a year could pay to be considered “affordable housing” would be $737 per month. For someone making $68,000 a year, that number increases to $1,700 per month.
However, for many in the Reno area, this simply isn’t possible with the ever-rising costs of housing.
Average rent in the Truckee Meadows was $1,480 at the time of the study, which was last updated in 2017.
“Incomes throughout the region have not kept pace with home prices,” the study states. “As a result, many people (38 percent of all Truckee Meadows residents) are paying too much of their income on housing costs. There is a shortage of affordable and available units for low-income households, particularly households earning 50 percent of area median income and below. This shortage is likely to increase given current population projections, constraints on new development, and expiring affordability.”
Presently, the council has been going through the motions of appointing citizens to the advisory board. Brekhus made it clear that the board would be focusing on market housing prices and issues as opposed to subsidized housing, however.