FALLON, Nev. — Churchill County has potential to grow in population and jobs — but first, it needs more housing.
That’s according to the Nevada Rural Housing Authority’s annual assessment for each county highlighting housing challenges and opportunities throughout Nevada.
Although the northern valley’s tech-pioneer territory and USA Parkway provide employment opportunities, local economist experts are saying Churchill County would still need more housing options even if companies such as Tesla didn’t move to the state.
“You would think Tesla would affect us, be there’s a need to continue growing,” said Nathan Strong, executive director of Churchill Economic Development Authority. “If we could get houses, we’re looking to create jobs. Cost of materials is the same anywhere else but return of investment is higher. People want houses in Washoe County and Carson City because of the density and amenities, but what makes Fallon attractive is we have lots that are shovel ready.”
Population pressures market
The Nevada State Demographers office projects Churchill County’s 2017 population as 26,186 people—a 3.7 increase since 2000.
But the NRHA found the most significant population growth for the county is in the age 65 and older and is expected to increase within the next five years.
As the majority of the Baby Boomer generation is now of senior status, growth among senior age cohorts relative to the overall household base is typical of aging communities.
The growth of these households indicates a growing need for senior housing in the market, an increase in area homeowners, new household formations becoming renters by choice, and increasing demand for high-quality rental units.
Shannon Ernst, director and public guardian of Churchill County Social Services, said the demand is pushing the local military out of the base into the community; the housing at Naval Air Station Fallon is undergoing rehabbing.
“We knew we were going to experience a larger housing strife and overall population with the community,” she said. “We spoke with developers about options but with construction and land costs, they can’t build and keep housing affordable.”
Ernst said the county is looking at state housing and federal dollars to provide money in a scattered setting.
Strong said developers and investors don’t see Fallon as an opportunity as it has limited resources compared to Carson City and Reno.
“Until someone sees value on investment, it’s not going to happen,” he said.
The assessment shows the number of households increased by 8.5 percent within Churchill County between 2000 and 2010. By 2021, 9,608 households will reside in the county. Since 2012, the area median income experienced an average annual decrease of 4.3 percent, which reflects fluctuations in the area mining industry.
But there’s a high turnover rate in renter housing units, over 47 percent; NRHA reports that’s high for a rural market, as this reflects the transient nature of residents living in rental units in the county.
Income also may be to blame; according to the American Community Survey in 2016, there are an estimated 3,754 renter households and 38 percent are paying more than their monthly gross incomes for housing expenses. Based on recent Census data, most residents are paying 35 percent or more, with incomes below $35,000 and are between the ages of 35 and 64.
Within the defined Fallon housing market, the estimated 2016 median household income was $54,091, which is slightly high for Churchill County. In four more years, it may increase 8 percent.
The demographic trends and high occupancy of affordable properties within Churchill County demonstrate a continuing need for affordable housing, according to NRHA.
The report also states that another important consideration is future financing resources supporting new housing development in an area like Churchill County will require that projected new growth must be determined to be sustainable growth; future development should not saturate a market and potentially create a situation of overbuilding.
Future for local employment and economy
There’s more to the growing pains; the NRHA assessment shows Churchill County underperformed both the state and nation during each period of contraction between 2001 and 2015.
However, it’s continuing to recover from the recession — slowly, but surely.
Between those years, Churchill County fared worse than Nevada and the U.S. in terms of residential employment change, recording an 11.2 percent decrease over the reporting period.
According to 2015 report by the U.S. Census Bureau, only 33 percent of Fallon’s workforce is employed in town, while others commute.
But the most recent unofficial, not seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for Churchill County shows improvement of 4.4 percent, as of July 2017.
The most heavily concentrated sectors — compared to the state — are government; manufacturing; and mining, logging and construction. Based on the number of employees, trade, transportation and utilities and the total government segments employ the most workers within Churchill County.
As the local economy is based primarily on agriculture, tourism and employment at the Naval Air Base, Churchill County did not feel the impact of the recession until after it was felt in other parts of western Nevada and is slower coming out of it.
Churchill County Manager Eleanor Lockwood said while things are getting better, they are still lagging behind other counties in the recovery.
Economic development officials in Churchill County are estimating the creation of up to 2,400 jobs in related industries coming from predictions that the 22 dairy farms in Churchill and surrounding counties will expand; a new dairy farm already is planned for Smith Valley, near Yerington. Two closed dairies are reopening and 15 have announced expansion plans.
With that, hay producers will put more land into production, more truck drivers will be needed, farm implement stores will add staff, more tractors and trucks will be purchased, and more veterinarians will be needed.
In October 2016, the Navy submitted a proposal to renew existing land uses and expand through additional land withdrawal and acquisition.
The proposed expansion combined with existing training land will cover 670,000 acres, but approval of the expansion is not expected until 2020.