Squeezed Out: A New Look At Workforce Housing

May 26, 2016

Developer Don Clark gives a tour of his proposed 17-acre, mostly residential development, which would include some workforce housing.
Credit Julia Ritchey

Reno’s housing crunch doesn’t just affect the suburbs, but its urban core as well, with limited units available in a hot market. A new project proposed for a large swath of downtown could carve out some affordable options. In our ongoing series Squeezed Out, Reno Public Radio's Julia Ritchey took a tour with the developer to learn more.

Developer Don Clark is giving a walking tour of his proposed billion-dollar project to convert 17 acres of downtown Reno into a sustainable, walkable community.

"So in this area, you heard how we're going to do pavers and bring this across, we actually want to carry that across the street and make it pedestrian," says Clark. "So it's a raised paver walkway, and that feeds right into the park on the other side. So you have retail on the ground floor on both sides, drop off here, access to the parking up against the trench, so you can see how cars peel off and this all becomes walkable all the way down."

Clark has been holding these informal walking tours about once a week over the last month as he seeks to build support for the plan, which includes 30 mixed-use buildings, plazas and greenspace. Dubbed West 2nd District, the development isn't exclusively seeking top income earners, either.

"We are very well aware of the critical need for what we might call little-a affordable housing in this community, because there is a significant lack of it," says Colin Robertson,  a partner with the Don J. Clark Group.

About 500 of its units will be rental apartments, and of those, Robertson says, their plan is to retain 20 percent for residents making less than $45,000 a year.

Robertson also says they anticipate more than half of the condos they plan to build would qualify for Nevada's Making Home Possible program, which provides down-payment and loan assistance to first-time buyers.

Samantha Reveley is a realtor specializing in downtown condos. She took the tour with Don Clark and says the city is in dire need of new housing options. 

A rendering of the full build-out of the proposed West 2nd District.
Credit Julia Ritchey

  "When you take the five main buildings downtown — The Montage, Arlington, Park Tower, River Walk and Palladio — there's only 15 units available for sale today," she says. "That's it. In all of five buildings. Because all the buildings are sold out, and it's just re-sales of people. What people don't realize is how little inventory there is to buy right now downtown. I have people waiting for units that they want to buy. 'Tell me when this comes up, tell me when this comes up,' and there's nothing."

In fact, Reveley has already taken deposits from three clients for Clark's upcoming West 2nd District.

"The way they're doing the phasing is right, because you can't just go build 2,000 units, because that's too many, but build that first building of 28, they'll probably pre-sale that one before they even get it constructed," she says.

Currently, Nevada has no rent control laws on its books, meaning it's up to developers to decide if and how they want to price their housing units — with less incentive to do so when demand is high. 

Mike Kazmierski, president of the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada, says he'd like more developers to implement these blended, workforce housing strategies, which are actually better for a community in the long-term.   

"You think about the slums, where you have a lot of subsidized, low-income housing, and then a lot of problems come with that," he says. "This is more of an integrated housing, and it fits much better in the community, especially when you start talking workforce rates.” 

Clark says what sets his project apart is its focus on incrementally building inter-connected neighborhoods that he hopes will draw a broad cross-section of residents.  

His company plans to break ground on the first phase of the district, a building of 28 condos, in the next month.