Update, Oct. 2: The Reno City Council approved the proposed initiative, which Hillary Schieve says is a pilot. “Sometimes we do things with unintended consequences,” she said before the final decision. Part of the plan is to see if this kind of program will generate interest from developers.
On Wednesday, the Reno City Council will vote on an ambitious plan to create more housing. But local housing advocates think it falls short and could distract leaders from pursuing more durable solutions to the city’s housing shortage.
Mayor Hillary Schieve introduced an initiative last month called 1,000 Homes in 120 Days that would defer required fees for things such as sewer hookups for housing projects adding at least 30 units. Developers would pay the fees later on. The mayor hopes lower upfront costs could jump-start a construction boom across the city and take pressure off the housing market.
She predicts each new eligible project could save more than $8,000 per unit on the front end of the approval process, but she was careful to say the initiative would not be a giveaway.
“We will be getting every single penny back from them,” Schieve said during a press conference. “It’s just going to be deferred later in the project.”
But J.D. Klippenstein, executive director of housing advocacy group ACTIONN, wants the mayor’s proposal to include an affordability requirement that would make eligible projects set aside some units below market rate.
“I think it’s just a way to get some attention,” he said of the proposed plan. “It’s not deep enough or sophisticated enough to truly address the need that we have.”
Klippenstein says the mayor’s proposal neglects the low income residents who have been hit hardest by the housing crisis. “It seems like it’s geared towards the people who, they’re probably stably housed,” he said. “But it is gonna do nothing for the folks who are literally thinking it is this place or the street.”
Local developers have come out in support of the plan, including Don Tatro, CEO of the Nevada Builders Association. He was at the mayor’s press conference to help promote the initiative.
“It is great to see somebody come up with a bold plan, a bold action item for solutions and not excuses,” he said.
He highlighted the need for more housing of all types, including the multifamily developments the mayor is seeking to promote.
That focus fits with the broader goal of increasing sustainability and urban density, which is one of the priorities identified in the Climate Sustainability & Action Plan the city council approved earlier this year. “We really looked at ways that we could spur that development. But also this is a concept that we want to build up, not out,” Schieve said.
For Klippenstein, the mayor’s proposal also threatens to distract attention away from permanent solutions, like a Washoe County ordinance to create public subsidies for housing that would serve low-income residents. The ordinance has been approved, but still hasn’t been funded by the Board of Supervisors.
“I’m worried that it will stall momentum behind some more meaningful policy solutions,” Klippenstein said.
The council will vote on the proposal during its public meeting on Wednesday, October 2.