Affordable Housing - Council to review and possibly adopt recommendations from housing expert

by Mike Van Houten / Oct 29, 2023

On 11/1/23, at 10 am, the City Council will hold a workshop on affordable housing, being presented with ideas from affordable housing expert Shane Phillips. To help analyze the supply and affordability crisis and provide recommendations, the City hired Shane Phillips to review the existing policies, regulations, incentives and housing programs. Shane is considered an expert in housing affordability throughout the country and is the author of The Affordable City, published in 2020, an affordable housing policy “handbook” for non-expert audiences. In addition to his book, he is the manager of the Housing Initiative the UCLA Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies. Shane has experience advising government agencies, policymakers, elected officials, and advocates on effective policy design.

He reviewed the City’s zoning, development standards, impact fees, planning documents, and other housing policies and programs to find areas where the City can improve when it comes to housing supply and affordability. He also interviewed City staff, toured Reno’s neighborhoods, and spoke with private sector stakeholders from the development community. Through this extensive review, Shane discovered five priority areas that could be improved upon:

• Infrastructure planning and development fees
• Approval streamlining and interagency coordination
• Incremental and “missing middle” infill housing production
• Zoning, development, and code standards
• Displacement protections and housing preservation

Let’s take a look at each of these in more detail, and what the city may already be implementing that falls under each of these recommendations.

Infrastructure planning and development fees

Two primary recommendations fall under infrastructure planning and development fees.

1. Update the CIP with more comprehensive infrastructure repair, replacement, and upgrade schedule, and use this to compensate developers for off-site infrastructure requirements on a pro rata basis.
2. Adjust impact fees to reflect lifecycle costs and revenues from new housing.

TMRPA is currently creating a public infrastructure plan to help the region understand existing infrastructure and capacity needs. City staff is exploring alternative funding opportunities for infrastructure located within infill areas. This includes grants, reimbursement agreements, impact fees, etc. This will help spur growth in the center of the city and lessen suburban sprawl.

Approval streamlining and interagency coordination

Two primary recommendations for streamlining project approvals and permitting include:

1. Increase the use of simple, objective standards and byright approvals.
2. Take steps to improve regional and interagency coordination and direct non- City agencies’ attention toward housing costs.

Here are some of the proposals the City Council could approve:

• The zoning code “cleanup” proposes unlimited density bonus for affordable housing projects meeting the 60% AMI.
• The zoning code “cleanup” proposes allowing affordable housing projects to go straight to a by-right building permit and eliminate the entitlement review process.
• The zoning code “cleanup” proposes allowing additional density bonuses for affordable housing projects that are in the 80%-120% AMI, as opposed to only the 60% AMI.
• The zoning code “cleanup” proposes assigning a City staff person to serve as a project coordinator for affordable housing projects during the building permit review process to streamline and expedite the review.
• The zoning code “cleanup” proposes to allow multi-family development with 100 or fewer units to be allowed by-right (in specific zoning districts), as opposed to requiring an entitlement review process.
• The zoning code “cleanup” proposes additional density bonus for market rate infill projects. The proposed language modifies the maximum density bonuses from 45% to now 80%.
• City staff is working internally with Development Services, Utility Services and Public Works to create checklists and procedure manuals to create a more consistent process for development review.
• City staff is participating in regular meetings with the development community and partnering agencies including District Health, NV Energy, TMWA, Washoe County, etc. to identify ways we can improve process and development review.

There are several public input meetings for "zoning code cleanup" below. 

You may, of course, have other questions about these or any of the other changes in that draft document, and I encourage you to ask them, either at City Council or during one of those remaining “Zoning Code Clean-Up” informational meetings:

Mon., Oct. 30th, 8:30-10am at McKinley Arts & Culture Conference Room, 925 Riverside Dr.

Mon., Oct. 30th, 6:00-7:30 pm at O’Brien Middle School, 5000 Silver Lake Blvd

Thurs., Nov. 2nd, 11:45 am-1:15 pm Virtual (pre-register in advance)

Mon., Nov. 6th, 12:00-1:30 pm Virtual (pre-register in advance)

Wed., Nov. 8th, 5:30-7pm at JWood Raw Elementary, 10600 Green Pasture Dr.

You can access the “Zoning Code Clean-Up Comment Form” here.

If you want to be placed on the “Stakeholder List” to receive notifications about upcoming meetings and actions related to these Zoning Code revisions, the City’s webpage directs you to email Grace Mackedon at

Incremental and “Missing Middle” infill housing production

This addresses infill housing that lies somewhere between single-family and multi-family, hence the name ‘missing middle’ infill housing. This includes duplexes, triplexes and accessory dwelling units.

1. Increase the supply of low-cost attached and detached homes in neighborhoods across Reno, including legalizing accessory dwelling units.
2.  Revise development standards including density and floor area limits to encourage small- and medium-scale entry-level infill housing.
3. Substantially increase the amount of land zoned for “missing middle” density.

Specific recommendations include:

● Allow up to four units per parcel in single-family residential zones inside the McCarran Loop.
● Encourage these lower-cost housing options and discourage mansionization and flipping by granting modestly higher floor area ratios to multifamily projects in these zones.
● Replace MF-14 and MF-21 with MF-30 zoning to increase likelihood of redevelopment.
● Establish new MF-45 and MF-60 zones that allow 45 and 60 units per acre,
respectively, and apply to parcels currently zoned MF-30.
● Eliminate minimum parking mandates citywide.
● Consider establishing residential parking districts and permit programs in locations with high on-street parking demand.
● Over 200 US jurisdictions have rolled back minimum parking requirements over the past decade, and nearly four dozen US cities have eliminated parking mandates citywide. While abolishing parking requirements was once considered a radical act, it is now becoming inevitable as cities look to a future with numerous alternative — and often healthier, inexpensive, and more convenient — mobility options.\

At the November 1st Council meeting, staff is asking Council to initiate an ADU ordinance.

• The zoning code “cleanup” proposes to allow duplex, triplex and four plex units in additional residential zoning districts.
• The zoning code “cleanup” proposes additional density bonuses for market rate infill projects. The proposed language modifies the maximum density bonus from 45% to now 80%.

Displacement protections and housing preservation

Recommendations from Shane Phillips include:

1. Proactively regulate shortterm rentals.
2. Explore state reform to allow limited “anti-gouging” rent stabilization.
3. Implement just cause eviction protections.

You can read the full 70-page report here.

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