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Barber: Proposed housing initiatives back at City Council May 8 (commentary)


Next week’s calendar of Current and Upcoming Meetings can be found here. In addition to City Council (5/8), they include meetings of the Reno City Charter Committee (5/6); Ward 3 NAB (5/7); Financial Advisory Board (5/9), and Civil Service Commission (5/9). Click on the meetings page to access all agendas and materials.

A Packed City Council Agenda

City Council meets on Wed., May 8, and you can view that agenda here. As usual, I encourage you to browse through it for issues that interest you. Aside from the Housing Initiatives item I’ll discuss below, here are some others that caught my eye:

  • D. 2 – Presentation, discussion, and potential approval of trash cans, animal waste receptacles, paint, and wayfinding projects identified along the Truckee River Corridor using $266,000 in ARPA funds. Staff Report here.
  • D. 3 – Presentation, discussion, and potential approval of activation, infrastructure, and maintenance at West Street Plaza using $300,000 in ARPA funds. Staff Report here.
  • D. 5 – Presentation, discussion, and potential direction to staff regarding the recruitment process to hire a City Manager. Staff Report here.

Item D.1 – Initiatives to Promote Affordable Housing and Building Density

As I mentioned last week, the proposed changes to Title 18 (the City’s land development code) pertaining to housing and affordability initiatives will return at this meeting, under item D.1.  I feel like this is the big-ticket item this week, because it has the potential to impact so many residents, present and future.

The Staff Report can be viewed here, and the supplementary materials include the draft (redlined) ordinance; materials from the February 7 Planning Commission meeting (Staff Report and Minutes); and received public comments.

In this meeting, City Council will be discussing the rounds of input, presentations, and recommendations that have transpired on these topics so far and will likely provide direction to City staff to help them formulate language for the ordinances, which would then have to come back to City Council twice for formal adoption.

Right off the bat, I’m skeptical of the many “intensifications” proposed in February by the Planning Commission. Those weren’t vetted through months of discussion with committees or introduced as recommendations from City staff or in response to community demand. Rather, they seemed to have been introduced out of a general desire on the part of individual commissioners to “do more.” And in my mind, they could pose more of a detriment than benefit. You can read through the Minutes of their February 7 meeting yourself, of course, and draw your own conclusions.

I have been tracking these initiatives since they were first brought to public attention last fall. On November 1, 2023, a whole slew of proposed changes were brought forward under the umbrella of “Zoning Code Clean-Up.” Then after some Council and resident input, they were separated out into “Zoning Code Clean-Up items” on one hand and on the other hand, new initiatives related to housing. A potential ordinance governing Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) was proposed separately.

But the City has continued to group together the proposed initiatives to promote more affordable housing and to promote higher density housing. And I think that may have been a mistake. Why? Because these are very different types of initiatives intended to produce different outcomes to benefit very different groups of people.

The City even acknowledges this. On the Q&A page for these initiatives (which is still called “Zoning Code Clean-Up” although most of these initiatives are new) is the question, Why is the city making changes to the Zoning Code that are specific to affordable housing projects?

And the answer (below) is that the Affordable Housing initiatives specifically were spurred by the 2023 passage of a bill by the Nevada Assembly, but the others were not:

“Separate from the affordable housing changes, the city is also looking for opportunities to increase the housing supply and to provide different housing products. This is in response to the broader national housing crisis that communities across the country are struggling to address.”

I’m afraid that continuing to group together the much-needed (and legally required) Affordable Housing initiatives with the slew of other more questionable, contentious (and optional) initiatives intended to increase Reno’s housing supply (at all price points) has done a disservice to thorough discussion of each one.

So let’s go through them again, starting with those Affordable Housing Initiatives.

Read the rest at the Barber Brief.

The Barber Brief is an independent e-newsletter and blog written by Dr. Alicia Barber on the Substack platform. It is reposted by This Is Reno with her permission.

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