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Reno mayoral candidates talk housing, infrastructure needs at This Is Reno forum

Six candidates for Reno mayor discussed housing and infrastructure needs during This Is Reno’s first candidate forum ahead of the 2022 primary election. KUNR’s Gustavo Sagrero speaks with Lucia Starbuck to learn what the candidates had to say.

Gustavo Sagrero: Let's talk about the candidates who were at the forum.

Lucia Starbuck: There were six out of 11 candidates running. Incumbent Hillary Schieve was not there. There was Reno City Council member Jenny Brekhus. She represents Ward 1 in West Reno since she was elected in 2012. She has also worked as a city planner. Joaquin Roces is a peer recovery support specialist for the Northern Nevada National Alliance for Mental Illness. He's also a disaster relief operations volunteer with the American Red Cross. Jesse Razo has worked in construction for almost 25 years in the city.

Sagrero: I understand there were also some other folks there, [including] Judi Rought, who oversees day-to-day finance operations for a startup company and has worked in accounting for about 14 years. And then there's Tabitha Schneider, the co-founder of Reno Hive, a co-working space. She's also worked in real estate for 35 years. William Mantle is a Family Support Specialist with Washoe County. He also worked as a sexual assault victim advocate for a crisis call center.

Starbuck: For all of the candidates, housing was a main issue. Every candidate spoke about high rents and the lack of affordable places to live. And, several candidates also talked about their own hardships in securing housing. Mantle spoke about living with six roommates while he made $12 an hour in 2017, and Roces said he experienced homelessness during the pandemic.

"When I lost my housing in September of 2021 because my rent went from $900 to $1,400 for a two bedroom, I ended up staying at the Cares Campus for a month and a half until I could find housing that I could afford," Roces said.

Starbuck: Less than a quarter of Reno residents earn enough to qualify for a median-priced home according to a city staff report that came out in February, and the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Reno is $1,700. That's a 21% increase from last year, according to rent.com.

Sagrero: What housing solutions did the candidates propose?

Starbuck: Every single candidate supported some kind of rent cap, like a limit to how much rent can be raised, but city council and the mayor don't have the authority to pass rent control or anti-gouging laws, so they'll need to take it to the state legislature and some candidates vowed to do so.

"We're going down to Carson, and if you think you're going to be in Carson as a representative come February: Guess what? We're coming down there as the Big City representatives and we want this authority," Brekhus said. "It's not going to hit every landlord and apartment owner in town because a lot of them are responsible, but it's going to hit the gougers."

Starbuck: Some of the other candidates were also supporters of requiring affordable units with each housing development.

"I want to see at least 10% of every new, multifamily housing complex have 10% of those units become income-based units," Rought said. "That way we're creating affordable housing with every single project."

Starbuck: Rought also wants to see the city create a deposit assistance program.

Sagrero: Reno has grown significantly in a short amount of time, and that's led to some growing pains. What issues did candidates highlight and what were their ideas for addressing them?

Starbuck: Reno has grown by nearly 40,000 people in the last 10 years, and that's caused strains on a wide variety of sectors like emergency services, transportation and workforce needs. That's something Jessie Razo has seen firsthand while building infrastructure like bridges across the city.

"Seeing the growth, what happens is that, when we're building and then we don't have the manpower, and it gets overwhelming, and for the safety of the workers," Razo said.

Starbuck: The group also brought up the issue of broadband, or high-speed internet coverage.

"If a business is thinking about coming into an area, if you don't have broadband, you can't work," Schneider said. "So, we need more fiber laid down in the city. I think I would propose something to the legislature related to broadband."

Sagrero: The population growth has also caused issues for emergency services. Candidates are concerned about the strain put on law enforcement and firefighters with limited staffing. Mantle supports raising taxes for those services, which would also need to be done through the state's legislature.

"Either we get more taxes or we have less services for more people," Mantle said. "That's the reality, and that sucks because taxes aren't fun, but if they're spent responsibly, if they're done with clarity, accountability and transparency, then they can provide the services that you need so that you can have a safety and a comfort in the city that you deserve."

Sagrero: Several candidates spoke about preserving green spaces and revamping public transportation in the community as well.

Starbuck: And, one more thing I want to mention about this forum, despite how divisive city politics can be, this forum was civil, lively and passionate.

Sagrero: That's good to hear. As a reminder, early voting begins May 28.

This Is Reno is holding a second forum for Washoe County Commissioner candidates. That will take place on Thursday, May 12 at 6 pm at the Downtown Reno Library. 

Candidate audio provided by KWNK Community Radio.

Lucia Starbuck is a corps member for Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project.

Lucia Starbuck is a corps member with Report for America focusing on community reporting and the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Local community issues are her passion, including the affordable housing crisis, homelessness, a lack of access to healthcare, protests and challenges facing vulnerable communities in northern Nevada.
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