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John L. Smith On The Newest Effort To Address Nevada's Affordable Housing Problem

Nevada is about to get more than twice what it usually gets in federal housing trust fund grants. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto D-NV., made the announcement last week.

It is good news in a state that faces a steep affordable housing deficit, but how far will $6.7 million go as families scramble for an affordable place to live?

Depending on who you ask, State of Nevada contributor John L. Smith said, there is a shortage of between 71,000 and 80,000 affordable housing units.

“That’s a huge problem. It’s a challenge for families. It’s a challenge for individuals of low income,” he said.

The money will be used to repair and maintain affordable housing, not build any new housing. Smith said the nonprofit Nevada HAND has been focused on this issue for a long time.

“Their statistics are really kind of staggering when you talk about the deficit of available housing to start with and then from there just what a family has to do in order to get into, say, for instance, a two-bedroom apartment," he said.

According to Nevada HAND, a family needs to be making $40,000 a year to afford a two-bedroom apartment in Southern Nevada, which is about $18 an hour.

Housing and Urban Development defines affordable housing as being 30 percent or less of someone's income. 

Support comes from

“It’s really about income and availability and affordability," Smith said, "So, there are a lot of balls to balance there, and unfortunately, in Southern Nevada, we’re showing that we’re way behind the curve even though we have government entities working on it every day.”

With such a large problem, $6.7 million doesn't seem like a lot of money, but it's not really about the money but about the message.

“If you go by the dollar amount, it’s a drop in the bucket, but if you look at it in the long term, folks at the highest levels of our government and our representatives in Congress, they’re focused on this issue,” he said.

President Joe Biden talked about affordable housing during his campaign. Smith said Democrats have taken the issue on as theirs, but at some point, he said, "you have to produce."

“I think a lot of people that are hurting are going to be looking for the new administration to make good on some of its promising regarding affordable housing,” he said.

The Plaza Celebrates 50 Years:

“I guess I’m one of the locals who remembers when it opened,” Smith said.

The property was, at one time, the "big sexy" downtown. 

“It was great! The pool on the second floor that you always had a hard time getting into," Smith said, but he added you could sneak in - if you were a local.

The hotel-casino has gone through a number of iterations, he said. It was once the Union Plaza and the Jackie Gaughan's Plaza. 

It was also home to a notable show:

“Let’s not forget ‘Nudes on Ice,’ the all-time favorite Vegas reference,” Smith said.

But the new operators are hoping for it to be part of the new downtown Las Vegas experience.

“They’re looking forward to kind of celebrating this place that brings out nostalgia and it's had its own little star turns over the years,” Smith said.

One of its most memorable "star turns" came in "Back to the Future II" where it was villain Biff Tannen's casino. A scene from "Casino" was filmed there, and it was featured in the movie "Cool World."

Over the past decade, the property has been cleaned up, Smith said. Former Mayor Oscar Goodman's steakhouse brought a lot of people who hadn't been there in years to the building.

Like other properties downtown, Smith believes the Plaza will benefit from the arrival of the "new big sexy" Circa.

“You’re going to see more changes downtown. It always helps that Circa, Derek Stevens place, opened," he said, "That’s like a new beacon, showing that there’s a new generation on the scene now.”

Changes at the Beverly Rogers Carol C. Harter Black Mountain Institute:

"Joshua Wolf Shenk who was the executive director there for a number of years, really dynamic character, brought a lot of energy to the scene," Smith said, "However, he is resigned and departed. It is unclear exactly the reasons for it." 

Like everyone else, the prestigious literary institute has had a tough year, Smith said.

"But for organizations that were all about outreach to the community and all about making appearances, gatherings and causing that kind of synergy to take place and certainly when it comes to literature, Black Mountain was that kind of hub, they had a really hard year," he said.

The institute is high profile in literary circles, Smith said, and Shenk was part of that profile.

(Editor's note: John L. Smith incorrectly said the Plaza was featured in "Who Framed Roger Rabbit.") 

Guests

John L. Smith, contributor

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