On the house

As I sloshed through muddy water up to my ankles on my trek through the Reno airport’s surface lot during our first mini-snowstorm, I wondered why people and their suitcases are forced through a deep puddle of muck to get to their cars. Has no one noticed the drain at the only pedestrian entrance isn’t working? If it’s a chronic problem, why not move the entrance to higher ground? It seems like a problem that can be solved.

But there are no easy solutions for our Lemmon Valley neighbors who have suffered greatly from flooding in recent years, with more to come if we have another wet winter. And now we have to worry about future residents of the just-approved Daybreak project who undoubtedly will be facing their own flooding disaster in years to come since our city council has decided building risks present in a floodplain can be mitigated by developer promises.

Three Council members—Jenny Brekhus, Naomi Duerr and Mayor Hillary Schieve—voted against the Daybreak project, which will produce 3,995 housing units in a large floodplain in southeast Reno. Although proponents of the development dismissed the overwhelming community opposition as NIMBYs, people from all over the valley were opposed to the project, which doesn’t comply with the Re-Imagine Reno Master Plan and has lots of environmental concerns—including mercury contamination, a nearby high-hazard dam holding back effluent and potentially devastating floods, which may also impact existing neighborhoods. Proponents claim the need for housing is more important than these concerns, ignoring the key lesson learned from the Lemmon Valley debacle about the danger of building homes in a floodplain.

The housing crisis directly affects an astonishing 47 percent of Reno’s residents who rent and must abide by Nevada’s tenant-landlord laws that are decidedly pro-landlord when compared to other states.

ACTIONN, a local advocacy group, has been working hard to create momentum around solutions for housing low-income residents, many of whom struggle constantly with rising rents and no-cause evictions. They recently sponsored a tour of Reno’s downtown weekly motel district for Presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg to help him understand how gentrification is removing these ’last resort’ options for many families, as sub-standard and nasty as they often can be. Buttigieg wants to address the problem by expanding federal affordable housing incentives and encouraging local government to offer abandoned properties to residents in need. He also wants more funding for Section 8 vouchers, although those vouchers don’t work well in Reno right now as escalating rents render them useless in many cases.

There are lots of luxury apartments going up around town, but far too little has been built for fixed-income residents who are being unceremoniously dumped from their housing in favor of new tenants willing to pay more. ACTIONN convinced the Washoe County Commissioners to approve an Affordable Housing Trust Fund months ago to offer subsidies to developers as an incentive to build affordable housing instead of luxury units. But the Trust Fund sits empty, with no funding.

Last week, the City Council approved Mayor Schieve’s proposal to defer sewer and traffic fees until the end of a project for developers working on “in-fill” projects but there’s no requirement to build affordable rather than luxury housing.

At least renters will now have an outlet for their frustrations as the Council also approved a plan by Councilwoman Jenny Brekhus to create a Tenant Issues and Concerns Board. The Board will gather information about our housing catastrophe and study ways the City can address rent gouging and no-cause evictions. If there are proposals that must be approved by the state legislature, the board will hopefully provide the backbone our elected representatives will need to act. Maybe living as a renter in Reno will get a little bit easier.