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A Challenge Indeed: Nevada Seeks Affordable Housing Solutions

nevada_hand.jpg

Courtesy Nevada Hand

Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman, right center, and other dignitaries cut the ribbon for a Nevada Hand affordable-housing project.

A legislative panel has proposed giving Nevada’s municipalities the authority to raise taxes and fees to address a shortage of affordable housing in the state.

That suggestion came as a part of a package of proposals from an interim committee on affordable housing that met in 2018. Others include awarding state tax credits to affordable-housing developers and streamlining operations of low-income housing programs.

Sen. Julia Ratti, a Democrat from Sparks, headed the committee and says there are “huge” numbers of Nevadans who are “housing burdened.” That means more than 30 percent of their income goes to housing.

“They are spending 60 percent, 70 percent of their income on their housing. Then that creates problems down the line,” she told State of Nevada, using as an example a senior having to choose between rent or medicine.

Ratti said part of the problem is the federal low-income housing tax credit is not filling the need for Nevada. The program gives developers a break on taxes if they create low-income housing. 

However, because of the tax cuts implemented last year, companies are not getting the same bang for their buck in tax credits, which means they're less likely to apply for the credits and build affordable homes.

Support comes from

“We’re almost the worst in the nation in terms of the number of people who need affordable housing compared with how many units there are actually available,” she said.

And while Ratti believes competition and the free market system can help in many parts of the economy, affordable housing is not one them. 

To make up for the federal government, Ratti wants the state to start giving out tax credits for low-income housing developments.

Mike Shohet is the chief real estate development officer for Las Vegas-based Nevada Hand, a 25-year-old nonprofit low-income housing developer.

He said if the state does come through with a commitment to tax credits for affordable housing it could mean an additional 600 units could be built every year, which is in addition to the 1,000 through the federal program.

“It is still a drop in the bucket when you look at the demand for affordable housing, but every little bit helps,” he said.

Las Vegas officials have expressed interest in possibly raising taxes to fund programs for the homeless and affordable and transitional housing.

Southern Nevada has long faced an affordable-housing challenge, but “the problem seems to be getting worse,” Shohet said. 

“We’ve got a growing population in Nevada,” he said, “and when you look at people who are migrating here from California and the new jobs that are being created — a lot of those jobs are in the middle-to-low income segment.”

While demand is part of the problem and so are stagnant wages, Shohet said the biggest problem remains the rising cost of construction. He said construction costs have gone up 20 percent over the past 18 months.

Don Tatro, who heads The Builders Association, a construction trade group in Reno, said rising construction costs are due to a number of factors from a shortage of skilled workers to the price of materials. 

Housing is also a challenge for those higher up the income ladder, which in turn pinches those toward the bottom.

“Housing as a whole is an issue, too,” Tatro said, “When the prices are going up for entry-level (homes), it compounds people staying in the rental market who are raising the cost of what would be affordable (housing).”

In Northern Nevada, Tesla is considering building housing for workers at its Gigafactory outside Reno. That’s in reaction to a tightening housing market that has seen the area's vacancy rate in the rental sector — both homes and apartments — fall from above 11 percent in the recession to 6.4 percent today, according to federal figures.

While the entire housing market is a concern, State Senator Ratti remains focused on the people making less than the median state income of $55,000 a year, who are really struggling to find a home and stay in it.

She believes a statewide push over a long period of time is the only way to really solve the problem.

“I think, as Nevadans, we want to make sure that veteran, that person with a disability, that senior citizen has a safe, clean, affordable place to live,” she said.

Guests

Sen. Julia Ratti, director, affordable housing committee; Mike Shohet, chief real estate development officer, Nevada Hand; Don Tatro, executive director, The Builders Association

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