Can Reno Grow Without Leaving Low-Income Residents Behind?

Sep 22, 2016

Homeless camp by the Truckee River.
Credit Dana Nollsch/

Recent news of City Manager Andrew Clinger’s departure overshadowed another important story that unfolded at the last city council meeting. Our reporter Bob Conrad has the story.

Before the meeting, three nonprofits called RISE, ACTIONN and the Reno Justice Coalition held a potluck downtown to raise awareness for low-income housing and homelessness.

Aria Overli of ACTIONN wants the city to do more.

“They’ve basically said it’s not the city’s job, it’s more the county’s job, it’s the federal government’s job to provide affordable housing," Overli said, "so we’d really want them to prioritize it as an issue.”

After serving hot meals to the homeless and others, the non-profit members headed to city council to speak during public comment.

“We came for socially equitable development, mixed-use development, economically integrated neighborhoods and real thought and concern for the people who need your leadership," said Mike Thornton also of ACTIONN.

Councilmembers were quick to explain some of their efforts, including Councilwoman Neoma Jardon, who launched Reno Works, a program that puts the homeless to work.

“In one year we have been successful in having four classes, and we have transitioned 27 individuals off the street and out of the shelter and into supportive housing.”

Councilman Oscar Delgado also defended the city’s efforts.

“Maybe it’s on our bad that we are not marketing that or communicating enough of that to the community" Delgado said, "but we are doing lots of different things for affordable housing and trying to clear that gap.”

Talk of affordable housing didn’t stop at public comment. Later in the day-long meeting, councilmembers argued over plans for a development about 15 miles north of Reno. Train Town is proposing to bring more than 1,000 homes into Reno’s North Valleys. The project is close to another development called Stonegate, a master-planned community that will put nearly 4,000 residences on northwest Peavine Mountain.

Nearby residents, who say they are already feeling the brunt of gridlock traffic during peak commute times, as well as overcrowded schools, spoke against Train Town.

“We have quite a bit of traffic," said Suzanne Freeman. "If any of you have been around Stead, Golden Valley, Red Rock around 5:15 in the afternoon, you’ll see it’s already car-to-car. We’re looking at a whole lot of growth around dry lake as well.”

These comments prompted a discussion about the city’s approval of such large developments. Here’s Councilwoman Jenny Brekhus questioning whether the city can service that area.

“How far away is fire? 12 minutes? Police is 17 minutes. There’s no water, there’s no sewer," Brekhus said. "You do not put out a zoning map of quarter-acre lots. It just does not get done in any metropolitan area in this country at this point in time to have this little ability to serve a development and say yes to it.”

Councilman Paul McKenzie, who represents part of the North Valleys, insisted Train Town’s developers will help mitigate those impacts, but he did not offer details.

“I just hope that other developers in that area are as committed as this developer is," he said, "and that they work together so that they address the impacts on the surrounding community together...”

City council ultimately agreed to Train Town’s zoning map change, a first step in the approval process for the development.

Members of ACTIONN, the Reno Justice Coalition and RISE are concerned that the poor will be overlooked as more developments are built to satisfy Reno’s growth.

“You can have development without gentrification," said Aria Overli of ACTIONN. "We believe that the city of Reno needs to be revived, downtown needs to revived, these communities downtown have been abandoned for decades, and they deserved to be invested in. We don’t agree that development should encourage displacement of people, and that’s what gentrification is.”

After the city council meeting, the three groups continued a week-long set of activities to raise awareness about these issues and city council held a workshop to explore affordable housing issues.