On affordable housing, Nevadans need to work together
By Senator Catherine Cortez Masto
There are dozens of new apartment buildings rising up across south Reno. Yet, only two complexes are being designed specifically with working class and low-income families in mind. The latest development to break ground, a brand-new 360-unit development called Steamboat by Vintage, is the first large rental community built in the past 15 years that offers lower income renters a truly affordable living option.
These apartments will provide much needed relief to some Nevada families, but will only make a small dent in Washoe County’s overwhelming need for affordable housing. The shortage is reaching crisis levels in many parts of Reno and Sparks. Incomes across the region have not kept pace with rising home prices, and as a result nearly 35 percent of all Washoe County residents, and over 50 percent of all renters, are forced to spend too much of their income on housing.
With the Truckee Meadows area expected to grow by 128,000 residents before 2035, we cannot wait another 15 years to take the next step toward increasing the amount of affordable housing in our region. A solution is going to require strong partnerships between groups across the valley, from local government offices and advocacy groups to landowners and construction companies.
In the past 18 months, I have had many conversations with local stakeholders regarding the housing crisis facing almost every community in our state. On a recent trip to Reno, I sat down with one community partnership looking to tackle the affordable housing problem in the region with the collaborative spirit it so desperately needs. The project began after hearing from residents, business owners and elected officials at two forums led by public and private community leaders early last year, and a community conversation hosted by the Community Foundation of Western Nevada. Spurred to action, Truckee Meadows Healthy Communities (TMHC) and the Truckee Meadows Regional Planning Agency teamed up with Enterprise Community Partners, a housing solution nonprofit, to develop a comprehensive regional housing strategy. Their leadership team, which includes leaders from the city of Reno, city of Sparks, Washoe County, the Nevada Legislature, Nevada Housing Division, Regional Transportation Commission, Reno Housing Authority, Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada and Renown Health, are developing an impressively detailed and innovative roadmap to guide our region’s housing policy and investments over the next 10 years.
By the completion of the project in November, the group will have compiled a wide range of data on housing in the Truckee Meadows region, talked to countless local stakeholders and used the information to develop a plan to prioritize the preservation and creation of affordable housing options across Washoe County while expanding strategic public private partnerships. Some of the more specific collaborative goals include creating a regional housing trust fund to finance the development of affordable rental homes, updating building codes and zoning laws, creating a regional inventory of land available for development and establishing a regional rental assistance program for families making less than half of the area’s average median income.
The progress these partners have made in the past year is a prime example of the importance of uplifting a diverse set of local voices. I am proud to amplify these voices in Washington and to support many of the federal policies this collaboration has already identified as key to increasing the supply of affordable housing. The omnibus funding bill I recently supported in the Senate includes a 12.5 percent expansion for the program Enterprise identifies as our best tool for encouraging private investment in affordable housing, the Low Income Housing Tax Credit. I also fought for increases in funding for the Community Development Block Grant and HOME Investment Partnership programs. Just this past month, Reno received over $3.5 million in new grant money from the Community Development Block Grant and HOME Investment Partnership programs.
I am also working with colleagues to explore legislative ways to further expand and strengthen the Low Income Housing Tax Credit and encourage developers to construct units specifically for families working hard to keep a roof over their heads.
The new affordable apartments in south Reno are a small-scale example of the importance of collaboration. Public and private agencies worked together to secure federal funding and private support to fill a need in the community. Ensuring all Nevadans have the same access to a variety of safe, stable and affordable housing options will require a much larger coordinated effort. TMHC, TMRPA and Enterprise have laid out one such path and demonstrated how widespread collaboration between community partners can drive progress toward sustainable and thoughtful solutions. I look forward to continuing to support them, and all our local stakeholders, as we fight to make affordable housing and access to opportunity a reality for the residents of Reno, Sparks and all of Nevada.