I live in a town that has experienced a major housing boom in the last 5 years. By car, we are only four hours away from San Francisco and by plane it is only an hour hop to the bay. Reno, Nevada is also located next to Lake Tahoe, one of the most beautiful alpine lakes in the world (if you don’t mind my little brag), and offers a lot of great hiking, skiing, and other outdoor activities. The city has become an attractive place for people in San Francisco, Oakland, or Sacramento who want to buy a more affordable home and have more space for families and outdoor living.
Unfortunately for many people in Reno, what is considered an affordable home to someone who has lived in the Bay Area or Sacramento is not what has traditionally been considered an affordable home to long-time locals and their families. The median price of homes in Reno has soared to over $500,000, placing homes out of reach for many long-time residents. However, with median prices for homes in the Bay Area being over $950,000, homes in Reno are somewhat of a steal. The end result in Reno is a growing population, a housing supply that hasn’t kept up, and increasing housing costs.
I personally know people who have been renting apartments for roughly the same monthly rate as what I have paid for mortgages on houses. This soaring cost of rents is pushing people in the city into unstable housing situations, and for many, into homelessness. Reno is a great example of the challenges of sudden housing cost increases, but it certainly isn’t the only place where this is happening.
In his 2016 book Evicted, Matthew Desmond writes, “Families have watched their incomes stagnate, or even fall, while their housing costs have soared. Today, the majority of poor renting families in America spend over half of their income on housing, and at least one in four dedicates over 70 percent to paying the rent and keeping the lights on.” For close to a decade the cost of housing in many cities and regions of the country has been soaring at a time when many people were not seeing wages increase. This pushed people to have to decide between working more, moving, going into debt, risking homelessness, or sacrificing time with family, comforts, and necessities.
It is not possible to tell everyone living in a place where rent and housing costs are soaring to move to South Bend, Indiana where homes are more affordable. It is not reasonable to tell everyone to take on a second job, to get more roommates, and to simply downsize into smaller and more affordable places. The problem has to do with the amount of housing being constructed, limits placed on housing construction, and the increasing concentration of economic opportunities to large coastal cities. There are many factors and trade-offs that influence the decisions that are made with regard to new housing construction and zoning regulations, but we should remember that one outcome from failing to provide enough quality housing is homelessness. Homelessness can be temporary, cyclical, and chronic, and it has tremendous costs on society and the environment, and if housing costs can’t be brought down to a level where people are not spending half their income on rent, then it will persist and worsen.