68.8 F
Reno

Hammering home the point: Two meetings this week again discuss housing crisis, increasing homelessness

Date:

Housing for extremely low-income residents falls drastically short

More and more Washoe County residents are being priced out of their homes. That’s according to data shared Tuesday by Nevada Housing Coalition Executive Director Maurice Page to Washoe’s Board of County Commissioners. Page’s presentation on the region’s need for affordable housing came one day after the multi-jurisdiction Community Homeless Advisory Board met and was given nearly identical data in a presentation on the need for supportive housing. 

Local elected officials have been hearing similar presentations for years, with the data presented continually painting an increasingly dire picture of housing in the Truckee Meadows and across the state.

“We know that we are in a crisis, and we know that there are no immediate solutions,” Maurice Page told commissioners. 

According to Page, nearly one in five renter households in Nevada is considered extremely low-income, which is defined as having income at or below the federal poverty level or 30% of the area median income (AMI), whichever is greater. In Nevada, the average income limit for a four-person household that meets this criteria is $27,890.

“What we have seen since about 2011 is the housing prices skyrocketed [by] about 240%, with wages only increasing by 30-40% during that same timeframe,” he said. “And so, therefore, people are getting priced out.”

The data Maurice Page presented showed a two-fold issue. The first was the quantity of housing. 

During Monday’s CHAB meeting, Washoe County’s Division Director of Housing and Homeless Services Dana Searcy said overcoming “housing supply paralysis” is required for the county to achieve its “Built for Zero” goal of ending homelessness.

According to Page, in Nevada, there are only 14 available homes for every 100 extremely low-income households that need one—a little more than 1,100 units statewide—making for the largest gap between need and supply. 

“This is the category of housing that the county is focused on as we try to transition people out of our shelters into housing,” County Manager Eric Brown said. “Most of them, based on the numbers he’s shared with you, cannot afford to be at the top, at the 60%-plus AMI. You see that the supply is much more severely limited there, which is causing us problems.”

“It goes back to math,” Maurice Page added. “When you think about the tax credits that we get and the loans, it’s easier for us to … pencil in and be able to create housing for that 60% [AMI] and below. However, when you get the lower percentage, lower AMI housing, it is just very hard for our developers to put a deal in place so that we can house those individuals.”

Reno City Council member Devon Reese, during Monday’s CHAB meeting, said the city is increasing incentives for developers to build housing for those making 30% AMI but still isn’t receiving proposals. 

“Even then, we have not found people that want to come into this community and build that type of housing, so it seems like an unattainable goal,” Reese said. 

A slide from a Nevada Housing Coalition presentation to Washoe’s Board of County Commissioners on May 14, 2024, showing market rate costs to rent housing vs. average income of various professions.

The second issue Maurice Page described was affordability. Housing costs should not exceed 30% of the household’s income to be considered affordable. In Washoe County, a single person needs to make 65% of AMI, or $42,400 per year, to afford rent on a studio apartment. That equates to a salary of about $20 per hour, which prices out minimum wage earners, retail salespersons, casino and hotel desk clerks and many other service workers in the region.  

Brown said the gap between housing and income has officials at local homeless shelters seeing more people staying at the facilities who have jobs but cannot afford a place to live. County data also show those shelters to be at or near capacity on most days.

“This is not going to go away,” Brown said, adding that rental assistance, which has helped many people to remain housed, is ending soon.

“That’s a disparity that we definitely need to look at, and we need to be able to increase our wages so that we can keep the balance,” Maurice Page explained. “Of course, it boils down to the other end of the spectrum: supply and demand. We can put more housing in. That will lower the cost a little. But we also need to work with our day-to-day workers to ensure that they’re being compensated fairly.”

According to Maurice Page, the Home Means Nevada initiative has been helpful in adding homes, with nearly 4,000 added to the pipeline over the past several years. That program, however, was developed through American Recovery Plan Act funding, a one-time infusion of federal pandemic relief funding. 

He called for more long-term funding strategies aimed at building more affordable housing for the lowest-income residents. 

“With the [Home Means Nevada] funds going away in the next couple years, we won’t be able to build as fast as what we’ve done over the last two to three years,” he said. “In order to keep the momentum and to not further fall behind the spectrum in regard to housing we need to figure out how we can work with the governor and the state and the federal delegations to create some funding streams to continue to build.”

Washoe County not isolated 

Maurice Page said that many other states, including Florida, Texas and Arizona, are seeing similar problems as Nevada when it comes to increasing housing costs and homelessness. Other counties in Nevada are also grappling with an increasing number of unhoused people. Commission Chair Alexis Hill, during Monday’s homeless advisory board meeting, said that’s beginning to impact Washoe County.

“We are the only Built for Zero community in the state, so that means we have the lowest barriers for folks to get emergency shelter,” Hill said. “We are anecdotally seeing other counties who are sending folks to Washoe County—within Nevada. That’s something that we are looking at as a region… We want to help people, but [other counties] also have to pay their share.”

At what cost?

In a presentation to the advisory board on Monday, Brooke Page, a director with the Corporation for Supportive Housing, said Washoe County would need to spend $281 million to create enough permanent supportive housing to meet local needs and $50 million annually to maintain the program. This type of housing would only serve people who have chronic health conditions, live with intellectual and developmental disabilities, require treatment and supportive services, or are at risk of long-term homelessness.

“We’re out of land in our county, pretty much at this point, and the cities. But where do we come up with $300 million?”

Commissioner Hill said she was concerned with how communities are staying “laser-focused” on recommendations such as those Brooke Page presented despite the high cost. 

“I think $300 million feels really overwhelming,” Hill said. “I heard some groans.” 

Sparks Mayor Ed Lawson said the cost didn’t deter him.

“We paid $2.7 million for .95 acres in downtown Sparks that we’re giving away to subsidized housing,” he said. “$300 million seems pretty low to me to help 3,500 families. We’re out of land in our county, pretty much at this point, and the cities. But where do we come up with $300 million?”

Brooke Page said local officials first need to maximize the use of existing financial resources and then identify the gap that needs to be filled. She said Dallas, Texas, is using $1.25 billion in bond funding to develop its data collection and needs assessment programs and build supportive housing. She also said philanthropy and alternative funding sources should be explored.

Some say spending is too high already

Tuesday’s Board of County Commissioners meeting included multiple discussions about how much has already been spent and how much more may be needed to achieve the county’s Built for Zero goal. 

Several people providing public comment, along with Commissioner Mike Clark, said it was egregious that the region has already spent $300 million on a homeless shelter and related services over the past five years and could potentially spend another $300 million for needed supportive housing. 

Washoe County Commissioner Mike Clark at a May 2023 meeting. Eric Marks / THIS IS RENO.
Washoe County Commissioner Mike Clark at a May 2023 meeting. Eric Marks / THIS IS RENO.

“Deaths are up, homelessness is up, and it was revealed yesterday that we’re spending, over the last four or five years, $300 million,” Clark said. “I’d like to see an audit of where that money went. We need to find out where the money went, who’s benefitting and how it’s helping people. The outcomes just don’t seem to be aligning with stories in newspapers.”

County Manager Brown and Commissioner Hill said what they’d heard during Monday’s homeless advisory board meeting was the $300 million figure as the cost to build housing, not what has been spent at the Cares Campus. 

“We’ve given detailed reports on Cares Campus spending…but the $300 million figure was a figure that the region needs to think about in terms of future capital spending to make affordable housing available,” Brown said. 

Both Brown and Clark were right—to a degree. 

Following Brooke Page’s presentation, Council member Reese asked for clarification, noting that earlier in the meeting he’d heard the $300 million figure mentioned as what has been spent on homeless and housing initiatives over the past five years. He wanted to confirm that the second mention of $300 million was a separate figure tied to potential future spending. 

This Is Reno re-watched the CHAB meeting several times and was unable to find anyone other than Reese who stated how much had been spent in recent years. That comment was picked up in a local news report, which Clark read Tuesday during the Board of County Commissioners meeting. 

To clarify the amount, Clark said he wants the county to put together a list of all expenses related to the Nevada Cares Campus, from construction and services to staffing, supplies, emergency and police response and any other expenses, along with the value of in-kind donations, grants, reimbursements and other income sources used to support the campus. 

“I’m tired of playing cat and mouse with this total number,” Clark said. “The public doesn’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know who knows. Let’s get the grand total of everything.” 

Kristen Hackbarth
Kristen Hackbarth
Kristen Hackbarth is a freelance editor and communications professional with more than 20 years’ experience working in marketing, public relations and communications in northern Nevada. Kristen graduated from the University of Nevada, Reno with a degree in photography and minor in journalism and has a Master of Science in Management and Leadership. She also serves as director of communications for Nevada Cancer Coalition, a statewide nonprofit. Though she now lives in Atlanta, she is a Nevadan for life and uses her three-hour time advantage to get a jump on the morning’s news.

TRENDING

RENO EVENTS

MORE RENO NEWS