Reno Hires Firm to Study Homeless and Housing Issues
The Reno City Council agreed to a partnership with OrgCode Consulting to analyze the area for challenges and opportunities with housing, hoping to alleviate the homeless issue.
Homelessness is on the rise in the Truckee Meadows, partly because of higher rents and a lack of housing inventory. The Reno City Council agreed to a partnership with OrgCode Consulting to analyze the area for challenges and opportunities with housing, hoping to alleviate the homeless issue.
"It's been over ten years since we've had any regional plan to address homelessness with a focus on housing first, and ending homelessness, so it's crucial," Elaine Wiseman, Manager of Housing and Neighborhood Development for the City of Reno said.
The city will pay for the $100,000 study with two grants. Wiseman says the city's shelter contract with Volunteers of America costs $3.4 million per year, and the review could help save money while finding solutions.
"It's going to be money well-spent," Wiseman said. "Anytime that you can look at any type of system and increase efficiency and effectiveness to get people housed is going to be money saved, down the road."
Wiseman says less than 200 homeless people live on the streets in Reno but more than 1,000 live in shelters or transitional housing. Finding permanent housing for them is a high priority for cost savings and quality of life. The next best thing that OrgCode Consulting can do is find out what the city is doing well and what it is not doing well.
"They can look at those things and say 'Hey, no that's not money well-spent here. You need to focus it there,'" Wiseman said.
The study could have an impact on the Reno Housing Authority as well, since homelessness and affordable housing go hand-in-hand.
"Anything that deals with homelessness in our community is going to be a real plus and if we can deal with homelessness more efficiently, that will be better for all of us," Brent Boynton, Community Outreach Coordinator for Reno Housing Authority said.
Boynton says that despite our booming economy, the cost of living is outpacing wages. That has some people on the verge of homelessness.
"All the pressure goes on the bottom, on the people who can least afford it," Boynton said. "So if you're already living in the cheapest place in town, where can you go?"
The Reno Housing Authority helps about 3,500 families with federal housing assistance, and 2,100 more families are on the waiting list. Nobody else can get on the waiting list until some of that backlog is reduced.
"What we don't see is how many people are living in a very strained situation where they're putting all their money into housing, and if their rent goes up, they, too, could be homeless," Boynton said.
Private and public affordable housing is under construction throughout the Truckee Meadows. At the same time, old motels that some people use as affordable housing are being demolished.
"We're losing inventory of that particular type of housing," Wiseman said. "I wouldn't necessarily say that that's considered affordable housing but at this point, any inventory that we have is important."
Affordable housing is considered to be less than 30 percent of a person's income. Boynton says more affordable housing would fill a huge need in Reno and Sparks.
"That's one of the best ways to prevent homelessness, and we need more landlords who are willing to accept housing choice vouchers," Boynton said.
Housing choice vouchers supplement people's rent payments, based on income. For instance, if someone has a $500 voucher, he or she would only have to pay $400 for a $900 apartment. Boynton says many landlords do not accept the vouchers, causing some people to look for two months or more for a place to live.
Private developers who designate a certain percentage of units as affordable housing also qualify for federal tax credits.