Commissioners move to create trust fund for affordable housing

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RENO, Nev. (KOLO) The large crowd at Tuesday's Washoe County Commission meeting was a pretty good cross section of the community--everyone from the Chamber of Commerce to university students, from community organizations to senior citizens.

It was an indication that our housing crunch is affecting us all, but some certainly on a deeply personal level.

"I had to make a very hard decision to relinquish custody of my children to my ex because I could not afford to house them," a single mother told the commissioners.

It's an issue we've seen up close recently in stories we've done focusing on the dilemma facing residents of the Civic Center Apartments.

The building was recently sold and is slated for a renovation. Its occupants, mostly seniors and disabled, are living on fixed incomes, facing eviction, priced out of their homes and thrust into a housing market with little to offer them.

The figures heard at the meeting November 27, 2018 told the story in broader terms. Someone living in Reno needs to make nearly $43 thousand a year--that's working for $22 an hour to afford an average one-bedroom apartment.

The woman we met in those stories--Colleen Danielson--was there to tell her story once again.

The item under consideration is an affordable housing trust fund, which could be used in a number of ways.

"You could do revolving loans to developers," said Assistant County Manager Kate Thomas."You could offer them land incentives. You heard about the city of Reno's land trust. There are opportunity zones you'll hear more about in January. So those are the kinds of things that make it attractive to a developer to build affordable housing."

It's likely the trust fund would use revenue from an increase in governmental services fee, but once seeded could be used to leverage other funding sources.

Establishing that revenue stream will be the first task facing county staff, which is to report back to the commission in January. Beyond that there are a number of issues to be decided, but the commissioners indicated they don't want a study; they want to move forward.

"Please don't wait to figure out best practices, etc, Get it back to us and get it back fast," Commissioner Kitty Jung told Thomas.

The trust fund provides no help to those like Colleen Danielson facing an immediate problem and it may not be the total solution. But it is, the commission and those in this audience believe, a big step forward.