Clark County hears ideas for spending $440 million in ARP housing money

By: - July 15, 2021 6:19 am

“There is a gigantic opportunity to change the face of affordable housing in Southern Nevada,” Audra Hamernik of Nevada HAND told Clark County commissioners, (Photo: Michael Lyle)

With $440 million that Clark County will receive from the American Rescue Plan Act, commissioners see the rare allotment of federal funding as a gift to not only invest in the recovery of Southern Nevada but also to fix Southern Nevada’s housing crisis. 

County Commissioners sought feedback from nonprofits and social service providers Wednesday to figure out how to invest the federal funding.

The county, which is required to submit a report on how it plans to use the money for economic recovery to the U.S. Department of the Treasury by Aug. 31, is seeking proposals from the community on the most effective ways to spend the money. 

Southern Nevada has suffered through an affordable housing crisis for years but the pandemic not only underscored but exacerbated the region’s challenges with housing, evictions and tenant protections. 

Ideas to create more affordable units, in particular for low-income renters, invest in homeless services, including transitional and permanent housing, or add more resources for tenants have faced steep obstacles due to a lack of funding sources.

Among many priorities the county is debating, Assistant County Manager Kevin Schiller said in the next four years the county needs to create at least 5,000 new housing units. 

“That’s a realistic goal,” he said. “If I had a magic wand it would be 10,000 houses we would create.” 

Audra Hamernik, the president of the nonprofit housing development Nevada HAND who was among the presenters Wednesday, said normal funding and tax structures limit how many projects Nevada HAND can develop each year.

American Rescue Plan dollars could allow the nonprofit to “move a lot faster,” she said.

“There is a gigantic opportunity to change the face of affordable housing in Southern Nevada,” she said.

Hamernik said the organization has talked with other nonprofits including HELP of Southern Nevada, St. Jude’s Ranch, Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada and the Blind Center about building housing for targeted “special needs populations.”

Brooke Page with the Corporation for Supportive Housing asked that whatever plans the county adopts, 20% of housing projects should be set aside specifically for the poorest residents. 

She said the extremely low-income population isn’t “normally prioritized when we think about the development of new units of affordable housing.”

“There is a need that we identify a subset of folks that make zero to 30% of median area income,” she said. “We want to be able to focus on that population as we consider our affordable housing needs.”

Investment would also include wrap-around services and acknowledge specific barriers faced by formerly incarcerated individuals and those with mental health needs and substance abuse disorders. 

“We also have a racial disparity problem,” Page said. “The Covid pandemic has illuminated our need to address race and we need to ensure we’ve got culturally specific organizers who are working with our community members to keep them stably housed.” 

It’s not just the creation of new units. 

In separate presentations, Nevada Preservation Foundation and Rebuilding Together urged for greater investment in weatherization, stabilization and repairing older homes. 

Bob Cleveland, the CEO of Rebuilding Together, said the nonprofit spends on average $7,500 per home replacing roofing, water heaters and air conditioning units.

Prior to Covid, the nonprofit helped about 280 clients — all low income, a majority of whom were seniors — each year, and had a waitlist of 75 clients.

With additional funding from public and private sectors during Covid, Rebuilding Together helped 370 households last year but still had a 280-person waitlist. 

“We are spending $7,500 on a home upfront to replace an air conditioner or roof to keep a low-income homeowner safely in their home for an additional 15 to 20 years,” he said. “Our most vulnerable clients are low-income seniors. If they lose their home because their roof doesn’t hold water or their air conditioning doesn’t cool the home, the only real choice for them is to go into long-term care facilities. The average care facility in Southern Nevada is $38,400 a year.”

Cleveland is requesting an additional $1 million per year from the county for its critical repair program, which he said will help clear the nonprofit’s backlog and continue to do repairs that ensure low-income residents and seniors stay in their homes. 

Commissioners heard proposals from other organizations including Nevada Partners and Nevadans for the Common Good.

While not specifically asking for money, Nevadans for the Common Good encouraged the county to invest in more case management services to help renters navigate the assistance process and obtain more wrap-around services. 

Aside from the presentations from the organizations, a variety of groups including Three Square Food Bank, Make it Work Nevada, Make the Road Nevada, and the Nevada State Apartment Association all provided stories of struggling renters and areas the county could invest in.

Some ideas included investing in a tenants’ right to counsel, which has been adopted in several cities nationwide, to rehabbing vacant buildings to convert them into affordable housing. 

Most reiterated the need for creating more affordable units. 

Fuilala Riley, the CEO of HELP of Southern Nevada, said the lack of affordable housing has “created a bottleneck in our efforts” to end homelessness.  

“This morning 900 formally homeless and unhoused youth woke up in a HELP program bed,” she said. “Seventy-two of those 900 are in permanent supportive housing but are ready to move on. Twenty in our rapid rehousing program are ready to move on. Twenty four at Shannon West Homeless Youth Center are ready to move on. Except we as a community do not have the affordable housing units in inventory.”

In coming days the county will hold additional meetings to discuss distribution of ARPA money to provide assistance to hard-hid communities, develop workforce training and resources for small businesses, and invest in health and infrastructure needs.

Commissioners, some accompanied by members of Congress, are also hosting a series of town halls to talk with residents in their specific communities. 

Organizations have until July 26 to submit formal housing proposals to the county. 

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Michael Lyle
Michael Lyle

Michael Lyle (MJ to some) has been a journalist in Las Vegas for eight years. While he covers a range of topics from homelessness to the criminal justice system, he gravitates toward stories about race relations and LGBTQ issues.