House of cards

Affordable housing is arguably the biggest ongoing crisis in Northern Nevada today. Every week, we hear stories about renters who are either priced out of their homes by rising rents or are simply asked to leave by landlords who think—correctly—that they can boot out their current tenants, give their properties a quick repaint, raise the rents and move in some nice fresh-off-the-Cali-boat residents to pay the new rent, because, hey, it’s still cheaper than San Francisco.

We hear these stories all the time from readers and local residents, like Brooke Noble, the subject of this week’s news story, and we also hear them from our own friends and neighbors.

And the accountability buck gets passed. State officials say that it’s up to city and county governments to deal with the affordable housing problem, and local city officials say the issue is beyond their jurisdiction. After hearing about her massive rent increase, Noble said a local city councilmember told her, “our hands are tied,” like some kind of retail assistant manager who didn’t want to deal with the hassle of a complicated return.

There is a real schism in this community, and it’s growing wider: the gap between landlords and renters. And as rents continue to rise, more and more members of Reno’s creative class are moving away—either out of the area altogether or out into the suburbs. (Which means longer commutes, which are, among other things, bad for the environment.)

And as Reno’s creative class moves away from the urban core, it means that many of the things that are appealing about the culture of the city—innovative restaurants, exciting theater, vibrant murals, exhilarating music—will start to leave, too.

And the problem of rising rents is even worse for the people at the very bottom of the region’s economic strata. They might have nowhere to live at all.

We support Senate Bill 398, Senator Julia Ratti’s bill which would add clarifying language to Nevada Regulatory Statutes to affirm that local jurisdictions do have the authority—and the responsibility—to develop affordable housing. Of course, the law already “authorizes a board of county commissioners or the governing body of an incorporated city to exercise powers necessary or proper to address matters of local concern, whether or not such powers are expressly granted to the board or governing body.” Still, SB 398 would clearly assign accountability to city and county governments on an issue that they sometimes like to pretend is out of their hands.

But we wonder if the bill goes far enough. It’s still up to city government to take action on affordable housing. And although city officials might say that their hands are tied, in reality, they’re the ones holding the ropes.