Washoe County must free up land to solve housing supply shortage

Nevada News

By Richard Jay

I have worked for more than a quarter of a century to help families create, manage and secure their financial futures.

For many families, home ownership provides one of the cornerstones of a secure financial future. But unless our communities are able to provide sufficient supplies of housing, a growing number of our families will be unable to buy a home.

I am an economist, and I recognize that housing prices are simply a matter of supply and demand. Demand has grown rapidly as the strong economy in northern Nevada provides abundant opportunities for our neighbors. The state demographer’s most recent report estimated that the population of Washoe County increased by about 9,000 people in the 12 months ending July 1, 2018.  There is no reason to doubt that the last year has seen a similar growth in population.

Yet — and this is truly mind-blowing — the pace of residential construction this summer has actually been running below the level of recent years.  Our population is growing rapidly, but we’re not building new homes at the same rate.  

The result is predictable: Home prices continue to rise. Recent figures show the median price of a home in Washoe County tops $400,000.

But family incomes aren’t keeping up.  Home prices have risen more than 3.6 percent in the last year, but incomes have risen only 2.4 percent, reports EKAY Economic Consultants.

With each passing month, fewer and fewer families can afford to buy a home. They are unable to create the home equity that is a primary financial asset for many financially stable families.

The answer to this problem? Again, it’s found in the laws of supply and demand. 

Numerous factors go into the construction of new homes — available land, sufficient credit to allow homebuilders to begin construction, pools of skilled craftspeople to bring dreams to reality.

Of these factors, the one over which the leaders of Reno, Sparks and Washoe County have the most control is the availability of land. Local planning and zoning decisions, rules about utility service and the construction of roads and other infrastructure set in motion the creation of new neighborhoods that provide homes for families in Reno and Sparks.

Residents who wish to see truly strong and truly sustainable communities in Northern Nevada will encourage their elected representatives to take the necessary steps to ensure that residential lots are available to meet the needs of our families. Residents who care about our communities will encourage elected officials to keep in mind the needs of families eager to find a home. Often, those families are so busy with jobs and kids that they don’t have the time speak up themselves.

At first, any new neighborhood is created from wood and concrete. But thriving neighborhoods blossom when families move in, build financially secure futures for themselves and their children, and create relationships that often last for generations.

Ensuring that families can afford homes is a matter of economics. Ensuring that families in our communities thrive is a matter of profound consequence.

Richard Jay, a Reno resident since 1967, earned a degree in economics from UNR. He is a trustee of the Reno-Tahoe Airport Authority and a member of the Reno Financial Advisory Board and the Washoe County School District Safe and Healthy Schools Commission.

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