Among the 50 largest cities in the United States, the Las Vegas metropolitan area ranks first among “most severe” affordable-housing shortages.
According to an annual report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) published in April, the Las Vegas-Henderson-Paradise area had 13 affordable housing units available for every 100 extremely low-income household renters who needed them.
And after placing near the top of the nationwide affordable-housing shortage rankings in previous years, Nevada landed at No. 1 in the nation, with 18 units available for every 100 extremely low-income renters who need them (followed by California, with 23 units per 100 renters in need). That’s a shortage of 79,835 affordable and available rental homes for extremely low-income renters across the Silver State, according to the report.
That shortage could be considered a crisis, given that Nevada also tops the list for highest percentage of extremely low-income households (earning 0% to 30% of area median income, as defined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development) that are “severely cost burdened,” meaning the household pays more than 50% of its income on housing costs, including utilities.
More than 97,000 or 20% of renter households in the state are classified as extremely low-income, and 81% of those renters are severely cost burdened, according to the NLIHC.
That shortage is happening within a red-hot Las Vegas market. Though reports indicate developers and home builders are ramping back up from pandemic recession levels to create more inventory, high demand and supply chain issues have sent housing costs skyrocketing over the past year.
Andy Romero, housing justice organizer with local nonprofit Make the Road Nevada, says that feels like a “slap in the face” for some families in the Valley. He says they see Vegas “being sold”—not to the working families who live here already, but to rich cash buyers and big developers.
“You see in the news that new houses are being built in the hills and mountains … but the reality is, that’s not for us. We can’t afford those things,” Romero says. “That’s really hard for the community, especially right now, when they’re struggling to stay in a one-bedroom apartment.”
Las Vegas Realtors in March listed the median price for a single-family home at nearly $460,000, a 27% increase from last year. And the Nevada State Apartment Association reported that monthly apartment rents in Southern Nevada rose about 20% from last year, from an average of $1,200 in April 2021 to $1,450 in April 2022.
Romero questions how much of the new development is being extended to low-income families. In his role with Make the Road Nevada, a chapter of a nationwide nonprofit that advocates for immigrants, he says many of the families with whom he works have had to get creative to stay housed.
Families are “doubling up,” moving in together to split costs, often in dwellings meant for single families, like town houses or trailers. Some are opening side businesses when they can’t stretch their paychecks far enough. In some cases, he says, close-knit communities will work together to pull donations into a fund to help those most in need.
In response to the affordable housing shortage, Clark County in April announced $160 million for a new Community Housing Fund to support affordable housing development. County officials estimate a shortage of more than 85,000 affordable homes for extremely low-income renters in Southern Nevada. In March, the Board of County Commissioners also approved plans to fund developments that would create more than 600 apartments for low-income renters.
Though there’s no timeline available for when those units might be ready, Clark County spokesman Dan Kulin says the funding will go, in part, to rehabilitating existing units, so that they can stay in the existing affordable housing inventory.
“It is difficult to say when a project funded by this source will be finished,” Kulin says. “It is important to note that there are numerous ongoing and planned affordable housing projects that are financially supported by the County, several of which open every year.”
Since January 2020, more than 1,100 county-sponsored affordable housing units have been built or are under construction, Kulin adds.
Throughout the pandemic, Clark County has administered its CARES Housing Assistance Program (CHAP), which provides emergency rental assistance to local residents who lack sufficient income or resources to pay for rental housing and utilities because of COVID-19. Since the pandemic-era program began, it has distributed about $306 million and assisted more than 60,000 households, according to county estimates. At press time, the program has more than $20 million in funding, which could be augmented in the future.
In contrast to funding for developing new affordable housing, which takes time, CHAP is helping tenants pay rent right now. “It’s one, if not the only, thing that is helpful at this moment,” Romero says.
With Make the Road, he has helped several families apply for CHAP—to receive rental assistance and to activate a legal provision that prohibits landlords from evicting tenants with a pending application. Romero says more immediate assistance is needed.
“They’re asking for things [that can help them] right away, like rental vouchers,” Romero says, adding that rent control and policies to help low-income homebuyers are needed. (At press time, Clark County had not responded to an inquiry about whether it has the authority to implement rent control policies.)
In April, the Interim Finance Committee of the Nevada Legislature approved $250 million to be administered by the Nevada Housing Division. That’s a portion of $500 million American Rescue Plan funding, which Gov. Steve Sisolak announced as the “Home Means Nevada” initiative to help lower housing costs and increase availability.
The onetime investment of federal pandemic recovery funds is “the largest single investment in affordable housing in State history,” according to a press release from the governor’s office.
Christine Hess, executive director of the Nevada Housing Coalition, says the state’s congressional delegates are also pushing for greater funding to solve the state’s long-standing affordable housing crisis. “They are working hard to get some first-time investments that haven’t been made in decades in this country,” she says.
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