An Eviction Taking Place and Misconceptions
It's a sunny, breezy day in the angular, repaved parking lot of the El Tavern motel in late May 2018, and an eviction is slowly taking place. A taxi pulls up, waiting. Beat up mattresses are strewn on the ground. Neighbors walk back and forth to each other’s rooms, some of them tripping over and speaking incoherently. As Joyce Kay Cowdin walks around the complex, though, her dog, Aurora, a two-year-old Shih Tzu, Maltese, Cockapoo and Chihuahua mix, brings many smiles.
“People have misconceptions about people who live in these motels. We're not all drug dealers and drug addicts, we're not all prostitutes. We're not all... whatever. Some of us are just in the position where this is all we can afford and we're good people,” Cowdin, 59, says.
Cowdin used to work doing phone surveys, in casinos and for the city’s ice rink, but her poor health now keeps her mostly in her room. She’s been at the El Tavern Motel on W 4th street, scrunched between storage facilities for two years now. She’s angry at some of the comments she sees on social media when she reads stories about the local homeless, motels and the affordable housing crisis.
Sharing What She Can Afford
Cowdin shares a two-bedroom unit of the motel with a friend. They both collect disability and food stamps, which allows them to get by but just barely, as the room cost is about to go up to $800. They have no car so they use buses to go grocery shopping, and spend wisely, with coupons and special deals.
“We still struggle every month. We still struggle to pay bills. We have phone bills, medication to pay for. We don't have enough to actually get into an apartment, because it's too much,” she says. “You can pay background check, credit check, and the application and still not get in and you never see that money again. Sometimes it's a lot. And then, they want first and last. Even the Courtyard Centre apartments where my friend used to live at, which was really low income housing, really reasonable, they're raising their rents too.”
There’s problems living here, even if she says it’s better than nothing. “We have had bed bug infestations. We have mice. We have the power that goes off a lot, because there are people who are using too many devices. Electrical circuits need to be upgraded And they're raising our rent again in June. It's been not even six months since they raised it last time.”
Worried about Reno's Direction
Cowdin closely follows what’s going on in Reno, but feels frustrated so far at the worsening situation in terms of affordable housing.
“I am on social media and I worry about things like this. I read and I try and find the information. I call people in government. I love to research and get answers. I will bug the crap out of people to get the answer I want. Hopefully, it's not a lost cause. Hopefully someone is going to step up who actually can see what's going on, who actually listens.”
She’s been homeless before, and fears she could be homeless again. She’s also lived at the Carriage Inn, which was recently torn down, as part of the still mysterious but ongoing destruction of motels and other properties on 4th street by the Jacobs Entertainment group.
“Some people say ‘oh just another blighted hotel gone’. But we don't know what Jacobs is planning on doing. I don't think the city knows. It's like well, ‘you are showing us a lot of money and you're going to buy up all these properties we won't have to worry.’ It's going to bring tax revenues so here you go. But this isn't a high priced area. I don't see who they are planning on attracting.”
She's also not impressed with the local Homeless Advisory Board. "They need more people there who have experience with homelessness, who understand how many different layers there are to being homeless, and all these different issues. Try living on the streets for 24 hours and see how you survive," she says.
Losing Charm and Attracting Outsiders
Cowdin is also worried about the destructions of motels and low income housing taking place for plans for high end student housing.
“All the apartments they are building for students seem to be for students who aren't from here, but for students from other places with parents who will pay their way. Reno has lost its charm. It used to be a really cool, quirky little town. They are trying to turn it into another what Silicon Valley? Or some top tier college town? Sorry it's never going to be that,” she says.
Instead, she would want to see more charities and organizations who build their own complexes or take over other apartments, with a simple application process, and short waiting lists, for low or fixed income residents, as she's seen in Oregon, where she's also lived.
"In Oregon, they have city and county-sanctioned tiny home villages and tent cities and places for vets and that's how they are handling it. It's housing, it's not transitional, they are there .... A lot of places will require them to do some work around the place, or grow vegetables and contribute to the community. I wish we had more of that here, because I'm worried, for myself and for others."
Reporting by Our Town Reno in May 2018