Housing advocates

At this year’s National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s Freedom Fund Awards Banquet—in its 74th year—two female policy makers received the group’s Eddie Scott/Bertha Woodard Human Rights Advocacy Award, Democratic state senator Julia Ratti and Reno City Councilmember Jenny Brekhus.

Sen. Ratti was given the award in response to her introduction of an affordable housing measure during the 2019 session of the Nevada Legislature. She introduced Senate Bill 398 without any co-sponsors. The measure was designed to clarify that local governments have the authority to come up with their own solutions—like rent control—to the region’s affordability crisis. It passed the state senate with bi-partisan support but was tabled in the lower house before the end of the session.

In his press release concerning the awards banquet, NAACP First Vice-President Andrew Barbano said Ratti had “won by losing.”

“Las Vegas lawmakers asserted that the bill was unnecessary because current law grants municipalities all the power they need to regulate rentals,” Barbano wrote, saying the result of Ratti’s bill was “a legislative finding that all local governments need is courage.”

But it’s a matter of statutes are interpreted, Ratti said.

“When you’ve got a whole bunch of different attorneys looking at the same law and coming to different conclusions—then what I was trying to do with SB 398 was clarify that,” Ratti said. “So, I think if we don’t see local governments moving forward and testing the authorities that we believe they have, then clarifying that law would make sense.

Reno City Councilmember Jenny Brekhus also received the award this year, in part because she put forth a resolution to create a tenants issues and concerns board as a measure to accompany Mayor Hillary Schieve’s recently announced “1,000 homes in 120 Days” pilot initiative—which has been approved. The council is seeking proposals for 1,000 housing units in developments of 30 units or more in the coming months. Any developers who receive approval for their projects will receive deferred sewer and infrastructure impact fees until later—at as-yet undetermined dates—in their building efforts.

‘I applaud the mayor for bringing it forward, but, at the same point, I wanted to bring a companion effort,” Brekhus said.

As of press time, the city council was scheduled to review Brekhus’ resolution at its Oct. 23 meeting. If approved, the tenants issues and concerns board would include two members appointed by the mayor, as well as two by each council member. It would, Brekhus said, investigate Reno’s housing needs and challenges before suggesting regulations and policies to adopt and/or powers to request from the legislature.

“I don’t want to prejudge anything, but the one issue that is of concern to me is rent gouging,” Brekhus said.

Ratti also mentioned concerns over price gouging, adding that it’s not just officials in local, state and federal government who should be considering their role in solving—or perpetuating—the housing crisis.

“It’s each of us,” she said. “If you have an Airbnb right now, and you’re keeping it as an Airbnb instead of allowing somebody in Northern Nevada to have housing, you’re contributing to it.”—Jeri Davis