The 2019 Legislature’s most magnificent flop

May 24, 2019 5:04 am
Nice work everyone

Your Nevada Legislature is almost done!

Cool. Each time the Legislature meets there are many urgent priorities. But no priority may be more urgent to legislators than getting the Legislature done.

That might be because in Nevada the Legislature meets for only a few months, and only every other year, so legislators must scramble to get done before time runs out, Southwest’s Reno-to-Vegas flight turns into a pumpkin, and legislators turn into mice. 🙁

Also even though it’s only for a few months every other year, when the Legislature does meet, it meets in Carson City. Which is also frowny-face sad.

So getting it done (“it” usually being passage of an inadequate budget that barely treads water) is job one.

I will be charitable, like I always am, and suggest that because the Legislature meets for silly periods of time in a silly place it is very hard for legislators to address all the priorities they would like to address.

That could explain why many urgent priorities will be completely unaddressed this year.

Less charitably, though it pains me to go there, it is possible, s’pose, that maybe those urgent priorities just weren’t urgent priorities after all.

One example of a priority for which your Nevada Legislature has demonstrated approximately zero urgency is housing.

No state in the nation has enough available affordable housing for the post-crash economy’s precariously employed low-wage workforce. It is a national crisis. There is nothing unique about a state having a housing problem.

But even when it comes to housing, Nevadans who perpetually insist Nevada is too special can find evidence to back them up: The state’s housing affordability shortage is, by at least one measure, the worst in the U.S.

Nationally, for every 100 “extremely low-income” households, there are 37 available rental units, according to a report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) released in March.

In Nevada, it’s only 19 units, the lowest of any state in the nation, according to the NLIHC report.

It’s even worse in the Las Vegas metro area, where only 14 units are available for every 100 extremely low-income households.

NLIHC describes “extremely low-income” households as those with “incomes at or below the poverty guideline or 30 percent of their area median income.” An estimated eight out of ten of those households pay more than half of all they earn on rent.

The most intriguing housing legislation to see the light of day this legislative session was a bill to let cities and counties a) limit rent increases, and b) mandate “inclusionary zoning” by which developers must build a few affordable units while building their preferred, more profitable product line of upper-mid-market mcmansions.

There is little to no indication that Nevada city and county governments, and the development industries for which they stand, would ever actually enact either policy. As Robin Munier, a long time aide to Las Vegas Councilwoman Lois Tarkanian now running to replace Tarkanian on the council, put it in a recent email to a Current reporter: “There really hasn’t been a need to support inclusionary zoning in the city of Las Vegas, since we have a system that has worked quite well for the nearly 15 years I have worked in the council office.”

Don’t worry. Be happy.

Meanwhile, the rest of the housing agenda that is, or was, under consideration in Carson City, including the governor’s transferable tax credits, are spoon-in-a-flood palliatives.

And inadequate to the crisis though that housing agenda may be, as this is being written, it’s not clear how much if any of the legislation will get signed into law. Legislation that would have provided only modest protections for renters against landlord abuses has already been killed by realtors. Lawmakers also gutted a bill to let Las Vegas raise fees to fund affordable housing and services for the homeless.

Not every bill including the words “affordable housing” has been axed. For instance, the Assembly overwhelmingly, and the Senate unanimously, approved a bill to reduce fees paid by housing developers. As any highly paid housing industry lobbyist will tell you, whatever public purpose those fees might support, everyone will be much happier if the cost is shifted to somebody else, preferably low-wage workers who don’t have highly paid lobbyists and are already paying more than half their income for rent.

As nearly every city, county, and state in the nation has found, housing policy is hard, especially in a country that has demonized public housing for decades, and used policy at all levels of government to deliberately keep low-income people of color from building generational wealth through housing. The U.S. public, or at least the white and better-off part of it that politicians and policymakers have traditionally listened to, is also quite confirmed in the conviction that restrictive zoning to keep affordable multi-family housing out of the neighborhood is next to godliness.

But hard as housing policy is, some cities and states are at least, you know, trying, through inclusionary zoning, rent controls, loosening single-family zoning restrictions (especially along or in proximity to public transit routes), and more financial support for public housing.

As lawmakers up in Carson City have been saying for months to describe nearly every act they’ve taken, each and every one of those policies “is not a silver bullet. But it’s a step in the right direction.”

Alas, with respect to housing, the 2019 Legislature is poised to take baby steps at best, assuming any steps are taken at all.

Yes, the Legislature’s refusal to even consider a bill to control payday lenders, let alone promote the creation of non-predatory alternatives, was an act of malignant cowardice and callousness. But payday lenders always slip the noose in Carson City.

And for all the sound and fury, education will be underfunded by the 2019 Legislature. But education always gets underfunded by the Legislature.

And yes, from child care to student debt relief to elder care support — from cradle to grave, as it were — there are more than a few urgent priorities the 2019 Legislature utterly failed to even try to address. Well, time is short.

But given the urgency and intensity of Nevada’s housing crisis, the wholesale flop of a response from lawmakers and the governor must be considered the most magnificent failure of the 2019 legislative session.

Nice work, everyone.

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