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John L. Smith On New Grants To Address Nevada's Affordable Housing Crisis

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(AP Photo/John Locher)

In this Oct. 12, 2018, photo, homes fill a small valley in Reno, Nev. A population inrush to Nevada has been driven by people seeking more affordable housing and a growing tech industry around Reno.

Funding to address Southern Nevada's affordable housing crisis will get a big boost from President Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.

With thousands of Nevadans caught up in the perennial challenge to find suitable housing at an affordable cost, the relief can't come too soon.

The grant is $37 million dollars and it comes on the heels of a $6 million grant announced a few weeks ago, which was targeted at rehabilitating and maintaining affordable housing in Nevada.

While $37 million seems like a lot of money, State of Nevada contributor John L. Smith says it is hard to say whether that money will go far enough because "Nevada faces a real crisis."

Smith said the affordable housing crisis in the state has been going on for several years as the population has grown, but the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic has made it worse.

“You’ve got these things working at levels that really make it a withering question; however, when someone comes up with $37 million to address the issue it at least shows that someone is paying attention,” he said.

Smith said that the Nevada Homebuilders Association estimates 79,000 units are needed to address the affordable housing problem in Southern Nevada.

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Housing and Urban Development considers housing affordable if 30% or less of a person's income is being used to cover the cost of rent or mortgage.

 

“So many, many Southern Nevadans, and Nevadans in general, are spending an excess of that 30% mark. Some spending 50% and more just for housing,” Smith said.

The grant will be divided by population with Clark County getting the lion's share of the funding at $14.7 million. Las Vegas will get $8 million. Henderson will get $2.5 million. Reno will get $5 million. 

The entire state will get $6 million, Smith said.

“That $6 million to the state is, to me, telling because a lot of this is going to flow to counties that have much smaller populations, but by percentage, they have a greater need of affordable housing,” he said.

There is also money for tribal communities.

“Although the major highways don’t always go through tribal lands, there is an issue that is ongoing and it’s not just local. It’s actually a national challenge,” he said.

Critics of the president and the rescue plan point out that affordable housing grants have little to do with actually addressing the COVID-19 crisis.

Smith said the pandemic has highlighted how many communities in the country are in crisis - even before it started.

The latest relief bill includes money for the service and restaurant industries, which have struggled tremendously over the last year. There is also money to help states close budget shortfalls.

“There is a certain rollout back to the states to get them back on their feet and I think we all know that Nevada is near the bottom because of our service industry. We’re going to be one of the slower states to recover,” he said.

Democrats have been touting what the plan has to offer, including free COBRA coverage for people how have lost their jobs and their health insurance.

“The Democrats are in the field right now and they’re reminding people of what they were able to deliver and that’s an important message for them because they also have other things they’re trying to deliver and that is a big infrastructure package that doesn’t have the votes right now,” Smith said.

Smith said Democrats are reminding people about what they were able to deliver, in hopes it will help them in their next fight for infrastructure spending.

Derek Chauvin Trial and Daunte Wright Shooting:

Smith believes the trial's verdict and the latest shooting in Minneapolis have the potential to trigger another summer of protests, which could impact recovery from the pandemic.

“There’s no question that it has that potential to affect an economic recovery; however, when you see the greater issues at work in our country, I think you look at that,” he said.

He said the questions about social justice and policing are still lingering, and the death of Daunte Wright just heightens people's awareness.

“Because it is an issue that is pivotal for our country, if we’re going to move forward, we have to move forward with a sense of social justice,” he said.

Wright's death is another reminder of how much work is left to do in this country, Smith said. 

Guests

John L. Smith, contributor

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