Panelists address workforce housing in northern Nevada
As more companies settle in northern Nevada and existing companies expand, the need for affordable and workforce housing is increasing.
Business leaders and members of the public gathered April 13 at Reno High School at an event hosted by Community Foundation of Western Nevada and Truckee Meadows Healthy Communities for a panel discussion that focused on workforce housing.
The rebound of the economy and additional companies settling in northern Nevada are bringing more jobs and additional people to the area.
The Nevada unemployment rate fell to 4.8 for March, as reported by the Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation (DETR). However, the housing supply is not keeping up with job growth in the region.
Historically, for every five jobs created, builders constructed four housing units. However, in the last four years, only one housing unit is being created for every four jobs.
“People who have been here, while they are benefiting from all these great new jobs, they are facing higher rents,” Bob Klein, president of Klein Financial and a panelist at the event, said.
According to a recent report by RENTCafé.com, Reno is the 6th fastest-growing rental market in the nation with an average rent of $1,013.
Wages are not keeping up with the increase in rents. This is making it increasingly difficult for many workers making average wages to afford housing in Reno-Sparks.
“They and many other people in this community cannot find a place to live,” said Chris Askin, president and CEO of Community Foundation of Western Nevada.
The panelists said to keep rents under control the community needs to add more workforce housing. Yet, developing additional housing comes with many challenges.
The panelists said the federal government used to be a significant funder of subsidized housing. However, that funding is shrinking, and the community will need to come up with other sources of funding.
“I think it is important to always start by recognizing what we do have,” Robert Nielson, a local developer, affordable housing advocate and panelist, said.
He highlighted funding such as the low-income housing tax credit, home funds and federal home banks. Nielson said that the community should take advantage of these types of resources and make the best of them.
The goal of the event wasn’t to emphasize the problems in the community, but to look at what other cities are doing to address similar housing challenges.
“We don’t need to reinvent the wheel,” Nielson said. “We can look to our neighbors in California, in Colorado, in Oregon and see what is working there.”
Dr. Derenda Schubert, executive director of Bridge Meadows, an apartment community in Portland Ore., explained that Portland is working on many different types housing such as housing for people aging out of foster care, converting former office buildings to residential housing, building workforce housing, temporary housing for the homeless and more.
“We really have worked hard to leverage public and private dollars,” Schubert said.
Robin Kniech, Denver City Councilmember, said in Denver, city funds have been used to subsidize rents in market rate buildings.
“We have used some of those dollars to help to finance 20 percent of units in a market rate building that is otherwise luxury,” Kniech said.
The panelists said in other cities, business owners are investing in communities to ensure their employees have places to live.
“The business community (in Portland) is really investing because they see when they invest in this kind of housing with the non-profit and the for-profit developers it benefits everybody,” Schubert said.
Panelists all agreed it is important for community leaders to work together across various sectors to develop creative and innovative solutions for housing in northern Nevada.
“It is imperative that you have a willingness to assess where your strengths are, where your gaps are and to be able to collaborate and leverage resources,” Connie Wright, executive director of Wells Fargo Housing Foundation, said.
“They are all prepared to be our future leaders and decision-makers and will see first-hand the complexities of a growing and industrious region,” says Chamber CEO Ann Silver.