The Reno community continues to face housing shortages up and down the affordability scale. Of course, those whose resources are most limited are most vulnerable, but no one is off the hook entirely. While some might like to argue that this is an individual problem, we know that these issues are communal and impact the entire community in numerous ways, from homeless encampments to health care demands to real estate prices to regional economic development. Like it or not, the lack of affordable housing and increasing homelessness impact us all in one way or another.
The goal of the Our House interviews is to help community members understand how complex these challenges are and what is being done. Both will help us, as a community, to avoid ineffective oversimplifications and empower of our productive responses. Each interviewee is chosen on the basis of two criteria: first, they are actively involved in responding to housing shortages in the Truckee Meadows and, second, they bring a critical perspective to this discussion.
Each interviewee is presented with the same five questions:
1. When you think about homelessness in and around Reno, what stands out most?
2. What positive steps/responses to homelessness you have seen or are you seeing?
3. What remains to be done?
4. What does success in addressing homelessness look like for you?
5. What other changes do we need/can we make to reduce or stop homelessness in/around Reno?
A Different Built Environment: An Interview with Nathaniel Hudson
William J. Macauley, Jr.
Nathaniel Hudson AIA, NCARB is Principal Architect at FormGrey Studio in Reno (https://www.formgrey.com/), an architectural firm that, among other projects, designed the renovation of Joseph’s Inn as affordable housing (on Center Street near downtown Reno). Nate participates in local planning, regional architectural organizations, and has taken on leadership roles in inter/national professional architect organizations, as well. Nate is from Reno, lived and worked in Southern California, and has returned to Reno. He is a proud Renoite.
Since I first met and talked with Nate, two priorities have permeated our discussions: dignity in housing and homelessness as a community challenge. In our most recent discussions, the separation of homelessness from the rest of our community became our primary topic, Hudson discussing how our thinking about and describing homelessness in many ways creates the options we have for responding to it. “I think that’s one of the things that really does strike me as interesting with homelessness,” said Hudson. “We seem to silo it really well, as a culture, as a society.” Hudson explained some of the outcomes of that kind of thinking: “We can have conversations about building as many homes as we want to. It’s kind of an idealist scenario, right? Missing are the conversations of cost effective, culturally and socially integrated proposals in which every one of these individuals could find a place.” Hudson readily discusses in detail challenges and opportunities in building more workforce, affordable, low-income housing, but his focus was on a more pervasive challenge. There is another ‘built environment’ that Hudson sees. This ‘other’ built environment is a conceptual one, a communal one, a way of thinking, describing, and interacting with homelessness that can determine options we can and cannot see. Nate acknowledged early on why we might be reluctant to think outside of our own constructs:
I think we all need to look at the fact that we are a lot more vulnerable than we might think. COVID doesn’t discriminate. Homelessness, a lot of times, doesn’t discriminate either. But we’re all just a couple of moves away from being in a really different situation. A couple of decisions, a couple of things that might be inside or outside of our own control. So, for me to silo homelessness from a land use development standpoint seems odd because it impacts more of our community than those specific locations that we can see. It’s deeper than that. It’s broader than that.
We have to find ways of unsiloing the kinds of brands and categories that we have made and fought to keep for so long. I think we’re in a time right now when that needs to change, and it needs to change rapidly. Homelessness is a category we have brought upon ourselves and, in thinking about the well-being of our community, how we want and desire and wish to define that is really nothing more than a mirror image of our values at that moment in time. This is part of our culture. It’s our DNA; it’s our makeup. If you are a proud Renoite like I am, this is Reno. It’s part of us and so, as part of us, I think we really need to destigmatize homelessness. We need to look at what it is, as a community, and better define successful responses. We need to recognize that people need to be met where they are, not where we are. It’s not just an architectural problem. We really need to work hard on establishing a better framework to work together better.
Anyone who meets Nate Hudson will recognize immediately that he is both a sweeping thinker and an optimist. He sees ways forward. One possibility is a more comprehensive and regular communal response to homelessness, a collective activity that brings together all of the various experts we have and focuses them on “actionable discussion” about what we would do together in the next year. Hudson sees abundant expertise here and real opportunity to bring that expertise together on issues like homelessness. Community challenge met by community expertise and shared effort.
“How long has society been wrestling with this? History will tell you a very long time. Nate’s certainty that we can respond effectively is clear, but it calls on us to be available to that important work, individually and as a community: “It’s a lot harder to be an optimist. Your hope leads, but you have to be bold. You have to retain the optimism and hope. That is the way forward.” Nate sees the present moment as a prime opportunity:
We have some opportunities ahead of us, some years of real strong collegiality and togetherness that wouldn’t have happened if the pandemic hadn’t separated everybody, so let’s capitalize on that. Let’s get together and let’s make sure that there’s enough momentum that we can manifest something meaningful and lasting.
Nate Hudson is optimistic, but not pollyannish. He knows we have a lot of hard work ahead of us, but he also remains convinced that we can do that work together. “This is moving in the right direction, I have to say.”