Several people dressed in a mix of coats, jackets and other warm clothing sought refuge underneath a white canopy as wind gusts whipped the surrounding area on a chilly Tuesday afternoon.
Councilman Oscar Delgado of Reno’s Ward 3 steps up to the podium and smiles at the crowd.
“Man, I love this weather,” Delgado said, earning laughs from the crowd.
Today, dirt and construction equipment fill the vacant lot across the Reno-Sparks Livestock Events Center. By spring of next year, a new 44-unit apartment complex will stand on this long-vacant piece of land on the corner of Sutro Street and Hillboro Avenue.
With more than 6,400 new apartment permits approved in Washoe County from 2016 to 2018, the 44 units that will make up the Willie J. Wynn Apartments — named after the late community leader who became the first African-American to serve in a cabinet-level position in Nevada — might not seem like a lot. This Reno Housing Authority project, however, helps fulfill a pressing need that the community continues to clamor for: affordable housing.
With only 21 affordable rental homes available for every 100 extremely low-income residents in the greater Reno metro area according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s Gap Report, any addition to the market’s insufficient supply is seen as cause for celebration. The Reno Housing Authority, for example, was forced to close its waiting list for people seeking affordable housing assistance after it ballooned to about 3,000.
“This is a drop in the bucket,” said Brent Boynton, Reno Housing Authority Community outreach coordinator. “But we are always happy to celebrate any move in the right direction (for affordable housing).”
‘Helping people up’
Reno is in the midst of a rental crisis.
With strong demand putting constant pressure on the area’s apartment supply, average rents in the area — which broke the $1,300 mark early last year — are the highest they have ever been, according to data from real estate consulting firm Johnson Perkins Griffin. Even when adjusted for inflation, the number represents a 42 percent increase from early 2012.
The sharp spikes in average rent are hitting Reno’s most vulnerable populations especially hard. These include those at the lower end of the financial spectrum, many of whom are either living from paycheck to paycheck or on fixed incomes.
The Willie J. Wynn Apartments is a project born from the need to help those who are struggling the most from Reno’s worsening housing affordability crisis, according to its supporters.
“The city of Reno is booming,” Delgado said. “But not all families are feeling that.
“One of the great things about this project is that we’re helping people up.”
The apartment will include a mix of one- and two-bedroom units designed to accommodate seniors who want to age in place. Amenities include a community and service space, outdoor barbecue area and a dog park.
The apartment’s focus on seniors holds special meaning to the family members of the project’s namesake, Willie J. Wynn. In addition to holding a cabinet-level position under former Nevada Gov. Paul Laxalt, Wynn also served as a reverend. The site of the former Greater Harvest Church — which Wynn founded in 1966 — is right next to the apartment project. The old church building still stands, but is now owned by the Reno Housing Authority.
“My father loved Nevada and he loved this community,” Patricia Wynn-Tau said. “He vowed to help people from all walks of life and one thing he always wanted was to have affordable housing for seniors.”
A community responsibility?
Despite the great need for affordable housing in Reno-Sparks, getting a project done is tough in today’s environment.
The Willie J. Wynn Apartments, for example, is the first new housing project by the Reno Housing Authority in more than two decades, said Executive Director Amy Jones. The biggest challenge? That would be acquiring the requisite financing.
The housing authority's latest project required $13 million in total funding from multiple public and private sources. On the private sector side, Wells Fargo was mentioned as a major funder. Jacobs Entertainment also donated $1.5 million as part of a deal between the company and the Reno Housing Authority after it purchased several blocks of property downtown. One of those properties acquired by Jacobs include Reno Housing Authority land valued at $1 million.
CEO Jeff Jacobs says the Willie J. Wynn Apartments project “helps a little bit” but added that there is still a huge need for more affordable housing projects. One potential opportunity involves housing being planned for Jacobs’ downtown Neon Line District project, which was previously called the Fountain District.
“Between First Street and Sixth Street west of downtown to Keystone, there’s potential to create maybe 2,000 residential units,” Jacobs said. “I’d like to see if we can keep 10% of them as affordable senior (housing).”
Doing so could help diminish some of the criticism Jacobs Entertainment received after it demolished several of the motels that it purchased after its downtown acquisition spree. While the motels were in terrible shape, they also served as de facto affordable housing for the tenants who lived in those properties.
Jones of the Reno Housing Authority agreed that more needs to be done to address the great need for affordable housing in Reno-Sparks. With a waiting list in the thousands for affordable housing, including not just seniors but single parents and young children, even the Willie J. Wynn Apartments will not come close to filling the affordable housing gap when it opens next year.
Jones challenged other members of the community — whether it be public or private sector members — to do their part in becoming a solution to the problem.
“Forty-four units of affordable housing will not solve this problem,” Jones said. “Affordable housing is the work of our entire community.”
Source:Reno Gazzette Journal