People need affordable places to live. Hardworking families should be able to afford to buy a home, and individuals in all walks of life need to be able to afford a clean and safe place to live. Making this a reality is one of the biggest challenges facing our region (and large parts of the country). I have made it a top priority and will continue to do so. Solving this will take an “all of the above” approach that includes a variety of solutions to address housing shortages and costs at all levels.
Let me say here, “affordable” can mean different things in different contexts and to different people.
There’s a federal standard that applies to housing vouchers (Section 8). There’s the 3-to-1 income-to-cost ratio that’s often used to determine if someone can afford a mortgage or rental payment. There’s different levels of housing need. A young person, a senior, a couple looking to buy their first home and maybe start a family, or a working family with multiple children or dependents all have different housing needs. I’m focused on housing that is affordable for all different needs and income levels, in addition to low-income housing.
I started to address the housing crisis in 2018 with an affordable housing town hall. After listening to our community, I implemented a “1,000 homes in a 120 days” program to get shovels in the ground, since building housing takes time. This program allowed developers to put city fees on the backend of their projects, making it much more cost effective to build housing now. Let me be clear: this was not a subsidy for developers. They must pay all the fees over a period of time (there’s more on this, old motels, and other common questions, in the FAQ section below).
I, along with the Reno City Council, recently approved four significant affordable housing projects totaling over 540 units. In addition to dedicating American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to affordable housing projects led by the Reno Housing Authority, we also put into place a mechanism to further incentivize affordable housing units by establishing affordable housing fee reduction standards and criteria. I will continue to work with developers across the region to increase the number of houses and apartments being built at all levels of the market. We must also pay close attention to smart growth to incentivize those who build infill projects in blighted areas and not sprawl housing developments.
It’s important to work with people to find ways to encourage developers to build the things we want to see built on the private property that they own. We can change the city’s master plan and rezone various areas that help “guide” big landowners and developers to build the types of housing we need, and we have been doing just that. However, there are limits to what we can do with this type of planning or building requirements based on the county’s regional plan; changing that requires buy-in from the other local governments in the region. This is hard work that I’ve undertaken, by building cooperation with our regional partners. Beyond that, though, we cannot require private landowners to build certain types of housing (unless the city has some kind of buy-in for the project, like waiving fees or giving away land, which is incredibly rare).
When I first ran for mayor in 2014, what I heard over and over was that our community wanted a vibrant and diversified downtown. Remember the Kings Inn, which sat vacant (except for squatters) and dilapidated for decades? Today it is an incredible housing project. We’re seeing millions of dollars being invested in our downtown core in several major developments to provide housing, entertainment, shopping, and jobs. This helps keep city services available to all residents, it helps improve areas that have fallen into disrepair, it helps us connect to the university, and it helps provide a downtown we can all be proud of and enjoy. I’m incredibly excited about these major investments in our community to help our downtown be clean and vibrant–an important part of any thriving city.
A massive shift in our region occurred this year by closing our Record Street Shelter downtown. We needed more space and services for our residents experiencing homelessness. This is a regional issue, which is why we worked with our regional partners to develop the newly constructed Cares Campus for our most vulnerable residents. As part of this regional approach, Washoe County has taken over running that facility and managing services for this population. The City of Reno’s part in this is to focus on affordable housing in our jurisdiction. We all must work together regionally to make sure that services are expanded, such as wrap-around mental health, housing, and disabilities programs like Reno Works. This is a phenomenal 12-week program to help individuals who are homeless re-enter the workforce and housing. Once the applicant finishes the program successfully they receive local job and housing placement. Reno Works has received national award-winning attention with grants from various local and national businesses.
I’m proud to see housing being built by both private and public entities. I’m also proud of what the city has been able to do, like rental assistance and tenant assistance programs. I (and many others) implored our governor and legislators to put more funding into housing, and I applaud them using federal recovery money to make the largest state investment in history into affordable housing for working families. I will continue to go down to the legislature to talk to our legislators and the governor and testify in support of more funding for housing, more tenants’ rights, and penalties for predatory landlords.
If you’ve gotten this far, you clearly care as much about housing as I do. It is a major issue, and one that we all need to work together to tackle. We have seen progress, and projects started, and there is much more that we can and need to do.