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Mayor defends Reno’s effort to combat housing crisis

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John Locher / Associated Press

Sun, Sep 15, 2019 (2 a.m.)

RENO — Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve said criticism surrounding fast-rising eviction rates and a spiraling affordability crisis in the city has overshadowed many of its wins on the housing front.

The Reno Gazette Journal reports the two-term mayor opened a housing forum this week by highlighting many of Reno's marketing and economic development moves.

Schieve said in the 30 months ending in June, the city approved the addition of some 7,000 housing units, including an estimated 2,500 affordable units.

She says one of the biggest challenges has been residents opposed to construction in their neighborhoods.

She says the city wants to create more housing to stabilize rents, "but it's tough when you say 'Don't build it here.'"

"Housing doesn't just pop up overnight," she told a crowd of around 200 people gathered for the two-hour event Wednesday at Renown Regional Medical Center's Mack Auditorium. "If I could wave that magic wand, I would wave it and pull out housing.

Schieve fielded few tough questions during the event, which was dominated by a lengthy and largely friendly back-and-forth between the mayor and a seven-member panel of developers and building officials.

The lone flashpoint came after Schieve pivoted to what's becoming a favorite topic: The ripple effects from multibillion-dollar state tax breaks to companies such as Tesla, Amazon and Apple.

"I'm frustrated when they give away billions in tax incentives without thinking about how we're going to build the housing," she said. "Local government, I feel, was not at the table."

Bruce Breslow, a top administrator under former Gov. Brian Sandoval and a panelist at the event, argued the tax breaks were needed to help drag the state out of the Great Recession. He seemed to suggest Schieve, who raised similar concerns during a recent interview, had engineered the give-and-take on the issue.

"You wanted to have this exchange, I know," he said with a smile.

Other panelists expressed misgivings when an audience member asked about the possibility of imposing rent controls.

They said officials should cut down on red tape before taking steps that they fear would actually harm low-income renters and homebuyers.

"Maybe government is part of the problem," said Ken Krater, a Reno-based housing consultant. Building codes "are absolutely out of control."

Schieve deferred her own response on the rent control question to Sparks state Sen. Julia Ratti, the unofficial dean of housing issues at the Legislature.

Ratti, who attended the town hall as an audience member, passed the issue right back.

"What I believe is that local governments should have the power to make those kind of decisions," Ratti said.

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