Courtesy photo
Manufactured Tiny Homes could help Ely solve its lack of housing that has hindered job recruitment in the area along with offering local residents a chance at home ownership.

The housing shortage in White Pine County is nothing new, but could the Tiny Homes movement ease some of that? The Ely City Council is hoping so.

At several recent city council meetings, the Ely City Council have discussed the critical need for housing.

During public comment at a previous meeting, Donna Bath explained the critical levels of staffing at the hospital, school district, mines, government, and specifically the Nevada Department of Corrections.

“In 2019, NDOC was down 40 employees, fast forward to today, they are down 154 employees, working at less than half capacity,” Bath said. “The honor camp was closed and moved staff to the Ely State Prison to cover the shortage, at this rate, we could lose the prison as well as the honor camp.”

The difficulty of hiring new staff without appropriate housing has been something that has been discussed for several years. The White Pine Main Street Housing Committee was created in 2019 to attempt to resolve some of these issues.

They invited contractors, Realtors, private property owners, to assess the need for housing. Bath noted that they recently sent out 375 letters to citizens who own property but do not live in White Pine, urging them to either sell or rent their property.

A housing needs assessment that was completed in 2019, Bath said, showed that during that time period, the community could have absorbed 100 single-family homes and 125 apartments.

“Today’s numbers indicate that our community can still absorb 100 single family homes, but could easily absorb 300 apartments,” Bath said.

“Existing abatements need to be enforced, we need to have the ordinance passed for tiny homes, we have had so many good opportunities, we need to get everyone in our village to get our housing situation on track,” Bath said.

City Councilman Jim Alworth has spearheaded the recent efforts with agenda items to find more resources for housing, with Tiny Homes being the hot topic, that also include RV park models.

“There is no housing, we got to get something going, we need to get into the 21st century with our building codes, tiny homes are here forever,” Alworth said.

City Councilwoman Jerilynn Williams-Harper agreed. “I’m speaking as an educator for charter, public, whatever school plans here, and Adam would probably say the same things— a number of teachers have said, ‘I’d like to come here but there is no place for me to live.’”

Alworth recently requested as an agenda item for the City of Ely to purchase a Tiny Home or Park Model RV not to exceed $80,000 for the public to view firsthand during an Open house event. This item was later tabled while additional research on codes and ordinances is completed

“There are a lot of folks in this town living with their parents, have no place to move out of their house making $90- 100,000 a year but they got to live with mom and dad, while driving a jacked up four wheel drive truck for $80,000 and a $20.000 side by side on a $15,000 trailer, so we got to capitalize on this— young people aren’t going to want to stay here if they don’t have a home, they are tired of living with mom and dad.”

Tiny Homes are generally designed to be under 600 square feet. It’s a means to significantly reduce financial costs, an approach to living more simply. A Tiny Home contains all the fundamentals — a kitchen, bathroom and living area. It is also reported by the American Institute of Architects a tiny house produces 2,000 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions each year, far less than the 28,000 pounds produced by an average size home.

The discussion of Park Model RV brought several questions, leaning towards the question of how the RV portion could draw a negative impact to the community. Bath was able to answer the questions, explaining that the wheels of the structures could be removed, and placed on a cement foundation, creating a manufactured home appearance.

Harper expressed that lifestyles have changed greatly. “You think about where we are, some people don’t want the huge mortgage, young people want to live here, but when they have the city, they want the city, so if they have have what they feel is a home they can afford, and still have all the toys, but be able to put gas in their tanks to go somewhere else–that makes a big difference.”

Harper said candidates who interviewed for teaching positions in the past have a $100,000 worth of debt, a car note, and can’t pay $1,200 for rent at an apartment.

City of Ely Mayor Nathan Robertson asked the council if they could have the motion to include purchasing whatever it is built to mobile home standards instead of to RV standards, and Alworth quickly interrupted Robertson.

“I have a problem with that and I’ll tell you why,” he said. “The country is doing tiny homes without your dream of a mobile home sticker thing on it. You’re going to go down to Vegas and tell the manufacturer we need to buy some homes, and can you hang them and modify them the way you want it? No Mr. Mayor.”

Building Inspector Craig Peterson noted that it all comes down to the standards. Alworth, clearly frustrated, interrupted Peterson to say, “They aren’t going to build something for Nathan Robertson because that’s how he wants it.”

Shortly after Alworth’s comment, he asked to have all items related to the Tiny Homes, and RV Park Models be removed until more research is completed.

“This is the typical government holding back, I just stated our codes are outdated and we are sitting arguing over something that has already been told we can modify and do,” Alworth said. “We have got to quit talking about it and act on it, why does the City of Ely have to be way back in the woods on this?”

City Engineer BJ Almberg and City Attorney Leo Cahoon both suggested that the research, and efforts taken thus far, should move forward, with the possibility of future discussions that may lead to a resolution on the outdated ordinances and codes council members have been working to update.

The council unanimously approved allocating $500,000 from the City’s American Rescue Plan Act funds to purchase four Tiny Homes and four Park Model RVs for traveling medical professionals at the William Bee Ririe Hospital.

The proposal will take effect if the city’s request for $4 million for traveling medical professionals housing to the State of Nevada Capital Projects ARPA allocation is denied.