Downward housing spiral amid prosperity
Winter is almost upon us, raising our seasonal concern for Reno’s homeless population who very well might freeze to death without shelter during cold and snowy nights. Government shelters are overflowing, and church groups are signing up volunteers to monitor the last chance shelter, a heated tent, for those literally left out in the cold.
Every year, there seem to be more homeless people in Reno, and this winter the crisis is exponentially worse, thanks to our community’s lack of affordable housing.
Everyone recognizes the problem, but not everyone has concluded that emergency response shelters are a poor solution. The new Business Improvement District is gleefully funding downtown “Ambassadors” to interact with both tourists and the homeless. The Ambassadors can certainly point a tourist to the nearest restroom, but they can do little more than shuffle the homeless from shelter to overflowing shelter, as if those living outside didn’t already know where they’re located. As the housing crisis intensifies, the situation of those with the fewest resources gets more dire—landlords seek higher profits from clientele just as desperate for a roof over their heads but with more ability to pay.
Case in point—the Civic Center Apartments. Ed Pearce of KOLO TV recently reported on the 44 apartments inhabited primarily by seniors and the disabled living on a fixed income. Colleen Danielson, a 74-year-old resident, reported she and many others are being evicted from their $550-a-month studio apartments so the owners can “refurbish” the space and raise the rent to $900, effectively pricing her out of her home since her monthly social security income is $806. When she complained to City of Reno officials, she was referred to legal services, and her eviction was postponed until Jan. 3, but the landlord is legally able to profit from the housing crunch, and she’ll be forced to leave. She has scoured the area for an affordable place to live and has encountered nothing but long waiting lists full of people in the same situation.
The lack of any affordable housing requirement in recent economic development giveaways is a glaring and foreseeable error by state and local officials. Requiring one or two affordably priced apartments in the new, large apartment complexes currently under construction is the proverbial drop in the bucket, especially when so many weekly motels have been razed for a theoretical entertainment district. There are apparently no plans to replace this housing stock, regrettably sub-standard as it was. To those living week to week with no opportunity to earn more income, it was home.
Meanwhile, city council members in Las Vegas are gearing up for the 2019 Nevada Legislature with a bill draft requesting permission to increase the real property transfer tax and a sewer service fee to raise about $20 million to fund transitional housing, affordable housing, and the city’s Courtyard Homeless Resource Center. According to Michael Lyle’s story in the Nevada Current, the 8.6 percent increase in the sewer surcharge and a .25 cent increase in the real property transfer tax requires legislative approval and would provide a new steady income source for affordable housing.
Other cities have also realized that shelters are not the answer to housing the homeless. Lyle points out that Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle have all recently raised taxes to build affordable homes.
Las Vegas City Councilman Bob Coffin acknowledged, “People get nervous when a tax is mentioned,” but the city “would be spinning some sort of a cosmic tale if we said it wouldn’t involve money” to address the homelessness crisis.
A cosmic tale is exactly what was spun with the Tesla billion-dollar giveaway that has lowered the standard of living for so many people already living lightly in Reno. Just ask Colleen Danielson.