In Reno, downtown motor lodges are being turned into housing for the down and out.

The toast of Reno in the 1950s, motor lodges helped spark a boom when the nascent casino industry turned the desert into the West’s top gambling destination.

For tourists coming to view the brilliant lights of the self-stated “Biggest Little City in the World” while trying Lady Luck at the slot machines, the lodges provided safe, clean and spartan housing.

The lodges are still standing. Instead of shiny promises of winnings and servicing to motoring sector of America, many are in disrepair and rent rooms by the week.

There is a single resemblance to their prime. Reno is bursting again and so are the roadside-lodges. But it’s not with motorists in mind, they have become the housing for Reno’s down-and-out.

California is Partly to Blame

While Silicon Valley firms from Apple to Tesla are setting up shop around Reno, waves of well-paid workers are coming along. At the same time, California’s skyrocketing housing costs and rental prices are sending thousands into Nevada in their search for affordable housing.

Four of 10 people moving to Nevada in 2019 will be from California. Most landing in Reno, and the city suburbs, come from the San Francisco Bay Area.

Along with the stampede come rising home prices. Also arriving is a new level of anxiety for people living on the margins.

Keep Up With the Joneses

“We’re not concerned with keeping up with the Joneses,” said David Frazier, who is a resident in one of the motor lodges. “We just want to keep a roof over our head.”

Frazier and his partner hand over $850 a month for a small studio in the Fireside Inn. Food they buy at a food pantry is cooked on a small portable skillet placed next to the bathroom sink. They are thankful they aren’t still on the streets, but many of their neighbors are senior citizens and the disabled. Both groups live on fixed incomes which means they are one rent increase away from being homeless.

Living takes every cent they have.

“When they get to that and the rent goes up, they buy a tent and live on the river,” says Frazier, who is 74-years-old.


City officials estimate around 4,000 persons live in the pay-by-the-week motels. The number includes seniors, disabled and mostly working-class families. For most, the lodges are the last exit before being forced to the streets. The fortunate ones can choose to live in their cars.

The growing number of homeless in and around Reno reflects the states most visible effects of Nevada’s population surge. The crisis which has plagued other Midwest states for years is being brought to Nevada.

Nevada homeless shelters are overflowing. Law enforcement regularly clears makeshift camps from the banks of the river and become places even the homeless don’t want to return to.

One lady, Wendy, was able to save enough for an apartment after years of living next to the river. A few months after moving in to her nice, one-bedroom home, she got bad news. The building was being sold to developers who would tear it down to make room for student housing near the university.

Instead of the river, she ended up at one of the motor lodges and paid $800 a month for the privilege.

The old lodge’s current owners have refused to sell the property, but Wendy said she lives in constant fear of change.

“It’s horrible. There’s no place else to go,” said Wendy.

Several years ago, Wendy’s sister faced rising medical bills. The only available solution, other than the streets was to move into the same old lodge as Wendy. The bills kept rising and her sister was faced with difficult choices.

In March, she took her own life.

“For me, that’s a housing issue,” Nicholas Wooldridge, a Las Vegas defense lawyer said. “People are literally dying because there’s not enough affordable housing.

Las Vegas Isn’t Any Better

Over the past twelve-months, Las Vegas’ City Council tried to expand homeless shelter capacity and beefed up inspections of its own weekly motels.

The city and Clark County have used federal block grants to building more housing.

According to U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)  over 6,000 persons are homeless in Southern Nevada. Nevada ranks eighth in the country for the measure of homeless persons, the littlest region in the top 10.

Of that population, over 60% of the homeless are unsheltered.

Las Vegas/Clark County stands fifth among metro areas with the highest rates of unsheltered homeless.

Fresh Start

Introduced to the homeless community in July 2017, the Sands Cares Fresh Start Mobile Showers visit various locations which serve the homeless. Along with getting a shower to stay clean and healthy, Sands Cares offers resources for food, clothing and medical care.

In the first six months, Fresh Start was able to provide over 3,000 showers to more than 500 new and returning clients.

The Takeaway

The National Low Income Housing Coalition places Nevada last of all states for making affordable housing available  for its poorest citizens.