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Reno’s big solution to sprawl is small

One company bets that tiny infill is the answer

Reno is on a growth streak. Google purchased land nearby for a data center, Tesla is building a factory there, and Amazon is constructing a fulfillment center. Meanwhile, Californians searching for more affordable houses are flocking to the city.

But locals who survived the last boom and bust are wary, and many haven’t fully recovered. The city is sprawling and becoming more expensive, and homelessness is on the rise. Can Reno build its way out of the crush?

Kelly Rae and Pam Haberman of HaberRae—a development company specializing in small homes, adaptive reuse, and infill—argue that one solution is to build smaller and on existing lots, not on the city’s fringes. This way, they reason, the city as a whole becomes livelier, there’s less environmental damage, and middle-class people can buy homes within their budget.

“You’re infilling into these blighted, vacant lots or taking a vacant blighted building within the urban core and redeveloping it into a thriving place for people either to call home or call a business,” Rae says. “And you’re not touching the exterior of your city, and not hurting that land out there.”

HaberRae’s latest project is Tiny Ten, an infill project in downtown Reno comprising 10 small houses oriented around a shared courtyard. Construction wrapped up on the project just over three months ago, and all of the units have been sold.

While Tiny Ten claims it’s more affordable than your average single-family home in Reno, its price range—between $210,000 to $260,000—is still unattainable for many of the city’s residents. The city council has expressed interest both in seeing more tiny homes in the city to help alleviate homelessness and in finding ways to change the zoning codes to make it easier for developers to build them. As it stands, the city doesn’t have any zoning code pertaining to small homes. However, fees—like sewer hookups—are cost-prohibitive for small houses since the rates are the same regardless of house size, making the profit margin tighter for those building them.

HaberRae was able to make the numbers work for Tiny Ten and create a desirable place to live. Residents Kevin Greenawalt, a 31-year-old graphic designer, and Karen Prouty, a 61-year-old retired teacher and grandmother, share what life is like in the community and why they decided to move in: