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Tonopah, Nevada: Rehabilitated Affordable Housing Contributes to a Frontier Town’s Revitalization
Situated halfway between Reno and Las Vegas, Tonopah, Nevada, is a town with approximately 2,200 inhabitants. The county seat of Nye County, Tonopah is under the jurisdiction of the Nevada Rural Housing Authority (NRHA), a public housing agency responsible for providing affordable housing in the state’s 15 rural counties. In 2016, NRHA acquired Desert Family and Desert Elderly, 2 of the town’s 3 subsidized housing properties, and consolidated the 2 developments into a single apartment complex called Desert Properties, which mixes the family and senior units across 14 buildings. The project aligns with the agency’s 5-year plan to preserve existing U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development (USDA-RD) Multifamily Section 515 properties and ensure affordable housing for the elderly, who represent the fastest growing population in Tonopah as well as 40 percent of the town’s rent-burdened households. Although NRHA’s decision to rehabilitate the outdated properties rather than construct new housing offered more funding benefits, the agency nevertheless had to assemble a complex financing package for the project. Desert Properties is the state’s first rural project to receive 4 percent low-income housing tax credits with a private equity bond and serves as a financing model that NRHA has employed for subsequent affordable housing projects. The 56-unit complex opened in December 2019 and received a National Association of Local Housing Finance Agencies’ HOME Excellence Award in 2020.
Upgrading Family and Senior Housing
Desert Properties consists of 32 one-bedroom units and 24 two-bedroom units in 2-story buildings, with 20 units reserved for seniors aged 62 and over. All the units serve households earning no more than 50 percent of the area median income, and all but four of the units receive USDA-RD project-based rental assistance. Before NRHA’s acquisition, the buildings were in poor condition, with deferred maintenance issues and no upgrades since their construction in 1982. Specific issues included damaged paneling, inconsistent flooring, a lack of landscaping, and deteriorated exterior stairs and railings. NRHA’s upgrades to the development align with its goals for sustainability and modern design. New vinyl windows, ENERGY STAR® appliances, and LED lighting increase energy efficiency. To complete the interior renovations with minimal disruption to residents, NRHA temporarily relocated tenants to vacant onsite units when available. Relocation assistance, which NRHA provided for both the temporary and final moves, included moving supplies, moving crews, storage costs, and meals as needed. NRHA also installed new roofing, added security cameras, and replaced concrete and asphalt walkways. Shared campus amenities created during the rehabilitation include a laundry room, playground, and half basketball court.
NRHA entered into a shared-use agreement with Belmont, an adjacent property that NRHA had recently rehabilitated, which allows residents of both developments to have access to a community room, fitness room, and laundry room housed in a former feed store acquired and renovated with the Belmont housing. These facilities, along with a large green space, are situated between the complexes to create a shared sense of community. Although NRHA offers no services on either site, the developments’ central location gives residents access to many local resources. A grocery store, pharmacy, coffeeshop, and senior center are within a half-mile of the property. The Tonopah Senior Center offers meal delivery and transportation to doctors’ appointments, banks, and grocery stores.
Combining Federal Subsidies To Preserve Affordable Housing
NRHA assembled 11 sources to finance the $9.7 million development costs of Desert Properties (table 1). Rehabilitating the existing buildings allowed NRHA to seek funding from USDA-RD’s Multifamily Housing Preservation and Revitalization (MPR) program, which is designed to preserve affordable rental units funded under existing USDA loans. Under the MPR program, the properties’ existing USDA Section 515 loan was restructured by awarding a 50-year loan extension and a 20-year deferral on principal and interest payments, which amounted to nearly $2.5 million. According to Beth Dunning, interim director of community development for NRHA, the MPR program also facilitated the use of other federal subsidies. For example, the Section 515 loan extension preserves the affordability of the units, making the development eligible for a new Section 538 loan that supports the senior units.
With this complicated financing package, NRHA had to overcome logistical challenges it had not previously encountered. The federal government shutdown in 2018 and 2019 delayed funding from four sources linked to USDA-RD. NRHA hired a title company to coordinate signature pages from partners spread throughout the western United States. Dunning explains that, because the title company was unfamiliar with this type of closing, the deal almost fell through.
Table 1: Desert Properties Financing
|Low-income housing tax credits||$2,691,000|
|USDA-RD Section 538 loan||1,217,000|
|Multifamily Housing Preservation and Revitalization Funds (deferred)||1,091,000|
|Multifamily Housing Preservation and Revitalization (0% loan)||645,000|
|USDA-RD Section 515 loan (deferred)||698,000|
|Nevada Housing Division HOME Investment Partnerships program funds||300,000|
|Nevada Housing Division Tax Credit Assistance Program funds||65,000|
|Nevada Housing Division Growing Affordable Housing Program Funds||750,000|
|Federal Home Loan Bank of San Francisco Affordable Housing Program funds||560,000|
Affordable Housing Supports Rural Revitalization Efforts
Desert Properties afforded NRHA valuable experience in managing multiple federal funding sources with different requirements and deadlines. The agency applied the knowledge gained from the experience to subsequent properties in need of rehabilitation. In its revitalization efforts in Ely, another rural Nevada town, NRHA used a USDA-RD Section 515 Loan and low-income housing tax credits to open Bristlecone Apartments in 2019. Desert Properties also has contributed to Tonopah’s revitalization efforts. According to Dunning, Desert Properties alleviates housing pressures by ensuring housing for very low- and extremely low-income residents, offering more housing choices for employees of businesses created during revitalization. Residents of Desert Properties will remain as customers for the town’s businesses, and some might become employees and even business owners. NRHA’s renovation of what was once an unsightly property on Tonopah’s main street has improved the town’s image for residents and visitors. Dunning also notes that Desert Properties’ rehabilitation should spur other economic development that will create a happier, cleaner, and safer community.