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Advocates Push Reno Leaders For Affordable Housing Help

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Associated Press
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The Reno-Sparks area has been home to a housing crisis for years now. Since 2014, average rents have increased by more than 50 percent.

Advocates say low-income residents are being hurt by high demand and limited housing supply. And new developments are usually market-rate units, meaning only people with money can afford to move in.

A new Washoe County ordinance seeks to incentivize the construction of housing units that are in reach of the area’s working class. The Affordable Housing Trust Fund was unanimously approved by the County Board of Supervisors earlier this year, but the measure still hasn’t been funded.

Local activist group  ACTIONN helped craft the plan – their members are pushing for the board to identify and approve a source of funding so the program can begin offering subsidies to developers who agree to build affordable housing.

J.D. Klippenstein is executive director of ACTIONN. He said the trust fund would help fund a variety of housing options.

"It's a tool designed to provide funding, an ability to get projects across the finish line for those that can't afford market-rate housing," he said, "And right now, we have very few resources that help developers in our community build that kind of housing."

Klippenstein said there isn't a shortage of developers interested in building affordable housing but the projects cost too much to pencil out. With the help of a trust fund, those projects would become much more financially feasible.

Michael Williams is a Reno resident who knows all too well how expensive housing can be. He has been homeless for several years and just recently secured vouchers for Section 8 housing.

He works with ACTIONN as a speaker and organizer.

"Affordable housing is a crisis situation really at all income levels," he said, "Because more and more people are having to spend considerably greater percentages of their income to cover housing costs."

Williams said the crisis is a life and death one for people who are forced to live in dangerous conditions because they can't afford anything else. He said there are very few options for Section 8 housing in Reno and he counts himself lucky he found a place to live.

Although the plan for the trust fund has passed, the money is not in place. Klippenstein said his group would like Washoe County to up the fee for registering a car from 4 percent to 5 percent, which would raise about $14 million.

He said that usually raising revenue requires permission from the state but hiking the DMV registration doesn't.

"Our county and our state, we're starving ourselves when it comes to revenue," he said, "We simply just do not collect enough revenue to meet up with a growing state that is rapidly changing with lots of needs."

Klippenstein doesn't believe all the extra funding should all go into the trust fund but he does believe raising the DMV fee is a unique opportunity to gather extra funds.

Kate Thomas is the assistant county manager for Washoe County. She said the county is considering hiking the fee to pay for the trust fund but that is not the only revenue source it is looking at.

They are also talking with the companies that attracted all the new people to the area to see if they could create a partnership.

“Our progressive board of county commissioners has offered that we should out actively pursuing, forging partnerships with some of those larger entities that have brought a significant increase in the workforce to the region,” she said, “Other jurisdictions have applied that thinking where they will wrap in partners whether that they are private, non-profit along with public sector investment so that we can try to get some more resources to help them, help us, and help the community.”

Thomas believes the community understands that either they pay for housing upfront or they pay for homeless services later. She said the county staff is currently gathering the best information about the trust fund and how to pay for it.

 

J.D. Klippenstein, Executive Director, ACTIONN;  Michael Williams, resident, Reno;  Kate Thomas, Assistant County Manager, Washoe County 

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Bert is a reporter and producer based in Reno, where he covers the state legislature and stories that resonate across Nevada. He began his career in journalism after studying abroad during the summer of 2011 in Egypt, during the Arab Spring. Before he joined Nevada Public Radio and Capital Public Radio, Bert was a contributor at KQED and the Sacramento News & Review. He was also a photographer, video editor and digital producer at the East Bay Express.