A proposed amendment to affordable housing legislation would give local municipalities the option to use inclusionary zoning or rent control as a tool to fight Nevada’s housing crises.
Originally, Senate Bill 103 only included language to allow municipalities to reduce or subsidize certain fees, such as sewage fees, in order to aid developers. However, state Sen. Julia Ratti proposed the amendment Monday in response to concerns from local governments who fear a lawsuit if they acted on either policy without explicit legislative authorization.
Nevada is a Dillon’s Rule state, which means cities and counties must get state approval to adopt certain policies. Ratti said her interpretation is that cities already have power to adopt rent control and inclusionary zoning, a conclusion that was also reached by an interim committee on affordable housing that Ratti chaired.
But Ratti said that municipal officials have told her they doubt that conclusion. So Ratti prompted an amendment to enumerate those provisions specifically.
“(The bill) enables local government to use every tool in the box as needed as part of the solution for affordable housing needs,” Ratti told the Senate Committee on Government Affairs.
Rent control and inclusionary zoning, which allows municipalities to incentivize developers who allocate a certain amount of affordable housing, have been used by other cities as a way to address housing needs.
Whether it’s reducing fees or inclusionary zoning — if the amendment is kept in the bill — local government would still have the discretion to determine if those methods work for them. “Most things done by local government are highly sensitive to market conditions,” Ratti said. “What works in North Las Vegas is very different for what works in Winnemucca or Reno-Sparks.”
The initial legislation to relax development fees garnered a wide-wage of support from developers and real estate groups to nonprofits and everyday people who lack access to affordable housing.
Ratti’s amendment dealing with rent control and inclusionary zoning, however, prompted concerns from lobbyists with the Nevada Realtors and the Nevada State Apartment Association.
Other speakers, such as organizers with Make the Road Nevada, supported both components.
The committee took no action on the amendment Monday.
“NOWHERE NEAR THE NEED”
In addition to local municipalities and real estate organizations weighing in on housing in Nevada, people also shared their experiences about the lack of affordable options being detrimental.
Many pleaded with the Senate committee to take steps to address affordable housing.
One UNR student, who works multiple minimum wage jobs to try to stay afloat, recently surrendered custody to her child’s father when she couldn’t afford an apartment and resorted to couch surfing and living in her car.
Another speaker told the Senate committee about meeting an 82-year-old woman, who was single-handedly raising her infant grandchild, forced to get a job because her fixed income could no longer support rent after it increased from $600 to $1,000 per month.
A social worker talked about a family, which included two disabled children, forced to leave their suburban home after five years because the rent climb out of their reach — they found an apartment that was 75 percent of the household income, and needed a nonprofit’s assistance to even afford the down payment.
Nevada has an affordable housing crisis “that keeps a lot of Nevadans awake at night,” Ratti said.
Giving an overview to the Senate Committee on Government Affairs, Ratti said Nevada’s housing crisis ranges from those who can’t purchase homes because of increasing median home prices to severely low-income households who lack any affordable housing options at all.
There are only 39 homes available for every 100 needed for those who are earning about 50 percent of the area median income — area median income is about $55,000 Ratti said. “That’s nowhere near the need,” she said.
For extremely low income, or those making about 30 percent of area median income, there are only 15 homes for every 100 needed.
Ratti said these renters are often people dealing with substance abuse addiction, veterans with mental health needs or seniors on fixed incomes. “That’s a 67 year old on a fixed income making $853 from Social Security trying to find housing,” Ratti said.
Federal funding does provide some assistance through programs such as section 8 vouchers. “There is nowhere near enough and it has a 30-year waiting list,” Ratti said twice just to drive home the point.
SB 103 was the first of several other bills dealing with affordable housing that would address everything from low income housing credits to tenants rights. The committee also heard SB 104, which creates a low income housing database.