Risk, Reward and Evolution as Reno Takes a Gamble

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This is a guest post by Hillary L. Schieve, mayor of Reno, Nevada.

Progress is such a simple word. It promises so much, but at times it’s tough to measure.

For nearly a decade at Reno City Hall, I’ve been focused on making daily progress toward keeping the “Biggest Little City” the best in the state, and hopefully, the country.

But how do we achieve that? The Great Recession ravaged Nevada like no other state. People lost their homes, retirements and the jobs they and their families depended on to survive.

My city doesn’t give up easily. We’ve clawed our way back by encouraging rebounding home prices, diversifying our economy and streamlining our government. In terms of jobs, we’ve become an incubator for startups, and have partnered with cutting-edge tech companies like Flirtey which, as part of a federal pilot project, is testing drone equipment that delivers life-saving AEDs.

From the Tesla Gigafactory and blockchain-focused companies, to a multitude of startups, we’ve been able to create new employment at a staggering pace. In fact, our state’s Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation found that Reno added 700 jobs in June, with 8,600 over the year. That makes us the fastest growing metro area in Nevada for jobs.

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Nevertheless, that success is creating its own challenges. Because of this growth, Reno has become a haven for Bay Area moguls to relocate and thrive, which in turn is creating intense competition for housing. Our housing market continues to be a tangled jungle of multiple bids, escalating offers and cash buyers. Newcomers may be used to that frantic battle, but Reno’s median income can’t match well-heeled outside buyers. Rents keep rising, forcing some onto the street.

In my mind, homelessness is an unacceptable outcome for the hard-working people of Reno. So we decided to split the difference, and give all folks looking for a place to live viable housing options. We landed on the bridge housing model as a solution because it addressed our two major problems: catching up with our growing population, and housing people who would otherwise end up on the streets.

For this plan to come to fruition, we had to find a way to create cheap, temporary housing to help residents “bridge” the gap between homelessness and finding homes. Recently, we launched an experimental public-private partnership with the Community Foundation Trust.

The trust’s radical plan includes utilizing city land to create more than 150 units of housing for those making below median income in the area. The foundation gets the land and some seed money from the local government, and the city gains independent help for housing low-income but valuable citizens. I consider this an example of a low-risk, high-reward initiative.

In mid-August, the trust will deliver the dorm-style modular housing units from Wyoming. The housing pods, which were originally used for shorter-term housing for energy workers in the “Cowboy State,” will cost renters $400 a month. In a state where housing typically rents for $1240 per month, these modular homes are perfect for those trying to transition to better jobs or who need a place to stay until they can find permanent homes. I can’t think of a better way to use unused city property than to empower people to improve their lives.

Ultimately, we define progress as this: getting back to our roots as an affordable and welcoming refuge in the High Desert, and fostering innovation by trying new approaches to old problems. Our progress demands we meet challenges without fear and that we be willing to take risks.

This is the core of our Battleborn heritage. I’m thrilled to keep that dream alive.

reno-mayor.jpgAbout the Author: Hillary L. Schieve was elected as Reno’s Mayor on November 4, 2014. Prior to being elected Mayor, Hillary was elected as At-Large Reno City Council Member on November 6, 2012