Homeownership is a dream of one Carson City couple, though it hasn’t been in reach due to high home prices and rising mortgage rates. But Brenda and Jason Klug, both 37, are still reaching.
“There is an emotional rollercoaster each time we put an offer in,” Jason told the Appeal at Playa Azul Mexican Restaurant off East William Street on Oct. 24.
The couple and their three children, ages 3 to 7, have been living with Jason’s parents under C-Hill since May. They’ve been looking for a house in Carson for more than a year, nothing fancy, a fixer-upper. Before moving in with family, they lived in a rental house in Sparks, where rent was set to increase to a level they couldn’t afford. Their story is illustrative of an issue much discussed by local government leaders and industry experts. For the Klugs, the issue is not theoretical, but personal.
“I would like to speak on my end as a mother,” said Brenda. “It’s really hard for me. I didn’t have the most stable housing when I was a child. And so, it’s just really heartbreaking for me to see my kids in a way repeating some of the experiences I had as a little girl. My heart … I’m not looking for a mansion. I’m looking for a house … I want safe housing for my children, that I can create stability for them and create those memories.”
Brenda grew up just over the hill in Nevada City, attended University of Nevada, Reno, and worked as an elementary school counselor in the Washoe County School District for five years. Diagnosed with a chronic medical condition in 2020, she became a stay-at-home mom and now homeschools the three children.
Jason was born and raised in Carson. He graduated from Carson High in 2005, both a wrestler and football player. He also earned the rank of Eagle Scout at the age of 17. He later worked as a firefighter — on such blazes as the Angora Fire — before attending UNR. He has fond memories of growing up in Carson, riding his bike, shooting his .22 and fishing.
“I feel like there needs to be a call to action for Carsonites that sees the damage that’s being done to young families,” Brenda said. “They’re not able to get stable housing. They’re not able to raise their children and have those memories that are so important to attach to a place, a home, a community.”
In Sparks, the family was renting a home for $1,750 a month, Jason said. Their landlord informed them the rent would be raised in increments toward the $2,400 mark. Though they parted ways with the owner amicably, the family soon found themselves in a precarious position. When asked if they wanted to rent again versus buying a home, Brenda said, “I don’t want to be put in a position where we get squeezed out of another house. That would create a lot of instability for our family.”
Jason said he makes $62,000 a year working as an account representative for Ferguson Enterprises.
“I’ve done really well with Ferguson and moved up fairly quickly, but it’s like every time we get an increase in my pay, the rent goes up,” he said.
Jason added, “There is no way to build up a down payment, so you’re stuck in that.”
According to Zillow, the median rent for a three-bedroom dwelling unit in Carson City was $2,300 as of Oct. 29 and $1,595 for a two-bedroom unit.
Besides being concerned about high rents, the Klugs said they want to start building equity. They have been working with a financial adviser and real estate agent and are qualified for a loan of about $315,000 with a 5 percent down payment.
Rising interest rates have not helped their situation.
“Rates will change,” Brenda said. “One day we qualify for X amount, the next day we get hammered by rates, and so our buying power is down 20 grand, in one day. And being at the price point we’re at, that’s quite dramatic for us. It leaves us with a lot less options than if we’re at a higher price point.”
According to the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, for the Klugs’ budget, the majority of interest rates offered in the Silver State as of Oct. 26 were at or above 7.5 percent, with multiple lenders going as high as 8.625 percent.
In an Oct. 26 news release, officials at Freddie Mac said mortgage rates nationally continue to climb to the 8-percent mark. Freddie Mac Chief Economist Sam Khater said rates have risen two full percentage points in 2023 alone.
“Purchase activity has slowed to a virtual standstill, affordability remains a significant hurdle for many and the only way to address it is lower rates and greater inventory,” Khater said.
Inventory has been a challenge for the Klugs as well.
“There’s not a whole lot that comes onto the market in our price range,” Jason said.
Many fixer-uppers are cash only, he said, and the homes that do qualify for a loan have multiple offers, “and we just haven’t made the cut.”
During a September workshop on affordable housing with Carson City planning commissioners and local housing developers, panelists identified the need for more workforce housing.
“I personally think that in our economy and our market and our region, our need for affordable housing extends all the way up to 120 percent of AMI,” Matthew Fleming, executive director of Northern Nevada Community Housing, said at the meeting.
For federal fiscal year 2023, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development put the area median income, or family median income, in Carson City at $85,500. Sixty percent of that would be $51,300, while 120 percent of that would be $102,600. The latest data for HUD’s Comprehensive Housing Affordable Strategy, released Sept. 5, shows an estimated 4,115 households in Carson between 50 percent and 80 percent of area median income. According to the figures, the majority of households in Carson — 12,245 out of 22,860 — are below 100 percent of HUD’s area median income, including both renters and owners.
At the time of the affordable housing workshop, planning commissioners noted a lack of single-family “starter homes” in the community and brainstormed ways to incentivize workforce housing, though official action wasn’t taken.
“We’re competing against every family that wants to start out and that’s trying to buy a house,” Jason said. “We’re competing against everybody coming over the hill flush with cash that wants to tear down and build something bigger.”
The median sales price of a single-family home in Carson City for September was $507,500, according to Sierra Nevada Realtors. Even with a lower price point, the Klugs worry about a monthly mortgage payment exceeding $2,000.
“There is a level that we have to be emotionally invested enough even to be willing to go that far on the budget,” Jason said.
That emotional investment means making an offer on something “that is going to take over half our take-home pay,” he said.
The couple hopes to find a small home they can live in while fixing up. They’ve made half a dozen offers over the last year, none securing their dream. They’ve looked at properties in Carson, Dayton and Virginia City. They also looked at 2-bedroom townhomes but grew discouraged with homeowner’s association fees and restrictions.
The Appeal reached out to Nevada Rural Housing to explore resources for locals entering the housing market. Katie Coleman, NRH communications director, pointed to the organization’s mortgage credit certificate program, or MCC.
“The MCC can be a real game changer for homebuyers, and it’s only available through Nevada Rural Housing, and it needs to be added before closing on the home,” Coleman said by email. “What’s really exciting about the MCC is that it has near-term and long-term benefit to a borrower.”
In this NRH program, the borrower gets a federal income tax credit equal to roughly 20 percent for the mortgage interest paid each year for the life of the loan, Coleman said. Short-term, the tax credit can be used as additional income on a loan to lower a borrower’s debt-to-income ratios.
“In other words, the more income you have, the less you owe to other creditors, the more ‘house’ you may be able to afford to buy,” Coleman said. “We’ve seen the MCC be the perfect tool to help get someone over the finish line and into affordable homeownership — that little bit can go a long way.”
For more information about MCC and other programs, visit https://nvrural.org/programs/homeownership/mcc/ or https://nvrural.org/programs/homeownership/.
The Klugs are open to help and ideas. Jason said he’s been racking his brain on ways locals can incentivize more workforce housing. Brenda said she believes the community can come together in some way to help families find a home.
“The reason that we wanted to step out and put a face to this issue is to advocate for other families in this area who maybe don’t think they could have a voice on this issue or maybe haven’t even thought to have a voice on this issue,” Brenda said.
“I talk to people all day long that feel the same way,” Jason said. “They’re in the same situation, just different circumstances than we are. But they’re either so caught up with life that they don’t know how to reach out and try to talk to someone, or they’re so beat down by life they don’t think it’s going to make a difference anyways.”