Housing woes: Different solutions needed to fix Reno's ‘serious problem'

Dr. Steffen Lehmann, professor and director of UNLV's School of Architecture, speaks at Thursday's "Missing Middle" Housing summit.

Dr. Steffen Lehmann, professor and director of UNLV's School of Architecture, speaks at Thursday's "Missing Middle" Housing summit.

RENO, Nev. — Bringing livable, sustainable housing in higher densities to Northern Nevada is a “quiet pain” that the local community must be willing to address as the region continues to grow, representatives said this week.

The Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada (EDAWN hosted a housing summit luncheon on March 8 to address the “Missing Middle,” a term used to describe Northern Nevada's mounting ineffectiveness to produce housing for populations flocking here from California to take advantage of the state's affordable living conditions.

Many of the region's top dignitaries, developers and business representatives attended at the Grand Sierra Resort to hear from several experts on Northern Nevada's continuing housing demands.

Simply not enough housing

EDAWN President and CEO Mike Kazmierski updated the audience on the recent results of the Northern Nevada Economic Planning Indicators Committee (EPIC) Report 2.

Roughly 51,585 jobs in the five-county region — Douglas, Lyon, Storey, Washoe and Carson — are expected to be generated between 2019 and 2023. The population is expected to increase by about 50,000 in the same period, and local entities have wondered as of late about housing options for the expected influx.

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“The ‘missing middle' housing is that two-person to 50-person housing most cities don't get until very late in development,” Kazmierski shared with the audience.

In Reno and surrounding areas, major developments such as condominiums and townhouses are sorely lacking. Kazmierski outlined in his presentation that before the recession, for every 1,000 new jobs that came to the region about 800 homes were built. After the recession, for every 1,000 jobs, about 300 have been built, so the region is at about half of where it should be with growth coming, he said.

Seeking solutions from other cities, countries

Dr. Steffen Lehmann, director of the UNLV School of Architecture and co-director of its Urban Future Lab, was the event's keynote speaker. Among other career accolades, he was a professor for sustainable architecture and director of the Cluster for Sustainable Cities at the University of Portsmouth.

Much of his professional interest has been in strengthening opportunities in urban infrastructure so residents can take advantage of resources closer to home and designing neighborhoods with greater urban infill.

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On Thursday, he shared that in some countries, many — if not all — land plots are used to their full potential, and he applied some concepts currently being done in some countries to what Reno could be doing.

He encouraged creativity in design and mixed use to cut down on long commutes and to avoid urban sprawl, showing photos and slides of what has been successful in traditional cities such as Istanbul or Cairo, and where sprawl has been prevalent in car-dependent areas such as Los Angeles or Houston.

“How big do you want the footprint of the City of Reno to be?” he asked. “We're going to have to have cross boundaries.”

He also said the city could encourage developers to work side by side so there are no “cookie-cutter” designs in the look of housing units.

“We need more invention in the way we do our architecture,” he said.

Doing more with less?

In addition, he said Reno has an opportunity to provide transit-oriented developments for residents to live, walk and become energy- and water-efficient, praising city's current efforts to do away with single-family housing and suggesting 10 units per space, even maximizing Reno's land use to 30 dwelling units per acre close to the city's center to help avoid long commutes.

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In all, it means convincing city officials, planners, developers and the community as a whole to “do more with less,” Lehmann said.

“But we're going to have to be careful because densification has been done badly,” he added. “Nobody is writing a blank check. Everybody wants to be a part of that process. The citizens want to be a part of that process.”

Kazmierski said acknowledging what's at stake, embracing new solutions and accepting change will be critical for the next five to 10 years.

“The community needs to understand we have a serious problem, and that usually generates motion and a willingness to accept some of the consequences of change,” he said after the presentation. “We need to do things differently. We need to talk more about density. We need to be more aggressive and in support of more housing units that are in our core.”

He alluded to trying new methods that would attract developers while appealing to potential residents, such as reducing fees for affordable housing units.

“Most people are a little reluctant,” he said. “They still think of the community as a boom/bust.”


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