Workforce housing shortage ‘a crisis,’ Carson City official says
Realtors, developers, agency representatives and Carson City officials gathered on Wednesday to brainstorm solutions to the city’s workforce housing shortage.
“It is a crisis across the board and not just for those with low income,” said Mary Jane Ostrander, division manager, Carson City Health and Human Services (CCHHS), which hosted the event in a meeting room at the Casino Fandango.
Jeni Rios, director of rental and housing programs at Nevada Rural Housing Authority (NRHA), gave the example of a pharmacy technician, a single parent with two children, earning roughly $27,000 a year.
The tech could afford monthly rent or mortgage of $651, or 30 percent of her income. Meanwhile, the payment standard used to calculate rental assistance eligibility for her family is about $997 so she would still qualify for $346 in assistance, said Rios.
Supervisor Lori Bagwell said serving on the housing subcommittee of the city’s Behavioral Health Task Force had opened her eyes to the scale of the problem.
“I always thought these were good jobs,” said Bagwell, referring to a list of public service jobs the committee used in their research. “That’s why we’re calling it workforce housing. Everyone needs a roof over their head.”
The typical firefighter, for example, makes $56,700, the median income for Carson City. That firefighter, with a family of three, could afford $1,418 in monthly rent or mortgage plus utilities.
The issue isn’t just cost.
“There are a lack of units overall,” said one attendee during the discussion.
Bill Brewer, deputy director, NRHA, said there’s a need for 1,300 rental units in Carson City.
During a panel discussion, the group talked about ideas for addressing the shortage, specifically what city government could do.
“Some of the things we’ve discussed: fee waivers, higher density, lower land costs,” said Lee Plemel, director, Community Development.
The Planning Commission on Wednesday was scheduled to consider an ordinance allowing accessory dwellings to be rented out long term. Currently, second dwellings built on properties with another single-family house can be used for family or non-paying guests. A new ordinance could open them to be used as rental units but not transient occupancy such as for Airbnb customers to help alleviate the housing shortage.
Bagwell asked developers in the room how the city might craft code that would allow higher density development in exchange for some units set aside for workforce housing.
Bagwell and Plemel agreed from a city perspective it would be best to add workforce housing in mixed developments — a complex, for example, that would include some luxury apartments, fair market rate units, and units set aside for those on rental assistance, rather than building a large public housing structure.
And everyone agreed there’s a stigma around rental assistance that needs to be dispelled.
NRHA’s Rios told her own story of being on housing vouchers, then known as Section 8, which enabled her to get a car, a better job, and eventually to buying the house she rented.
David Baxley, a CCHHS client, told his story, too, of living in his car when he was threatened by someone with a gun. He went to CCHHS to see what kind of help he could get. He was placed in an apartment with assistance and now pays his rent and still works with CCHHS on such life skills as nutrition.
“I’ve been with them four years now and I’ve seen people come in and make a success of themselves,” said Baxley.