County money designed to rehouse families repurposed to place them in extended stay motels

Shift in funding comes as people at risk of homelessness struggle to find affordable rentals

By: - January 20, 2022 5:20 am

An extended stay motel near Flamingo and Paradise. (Nevada Current file photo).

Because of the lack of affordable housing units, Clark County has to shift dollars originally allocated toward rehousing families experiencing or at risk of homelessness to placing them in extended stay motels as a temporary solution.

Tim Burch, the administrator of human services for Clark County, said they have to meet certain thresholds every six months when it comes to spending federal money allocated toward housing or risk losing those funds. 

Being told Tuesday they wouldn’t hit their deadline, Clark County commissioners unanimously approved a proposal to redirect $1.3 million designed to go toward rapid rehousing to instead go toward emergency shelter and non congregate funds, which can include monthly and weekly motels. 

“When we see we’re not spending it as fast as we want because people can’t find the units readily available as they need them … we shift the dollars to accommodate the reality of the situation,” Burch said in an interview. “We are just shifting dollars to meet the immediate needs so these folks can be housed as they look for longer term things.”

Burch said the county currently has about 300 families that have gone through a housing assessment that could use money designed for rapid rehousing, but are struggling to find any affordable rentals. 

“They’ve got this voucher and they are out looking for places,” he said. “But we’re talking to the (Nevada) Apartment Association and they are telling us there is less than half the normal stock available in the community. So folks are having a challenging time finding units. Meanwhile they still need to be housed.”

The CARES Act, federal relief legislation passed in 2020, authorized the county to put money into the emergency solution vouchers program to assist families at risk of homelessness when searching for a new place to live

While the county has also taken steps to keep people housed during the pandemic by providing rental assistance, Southern Nevada’s housing crisis, which has only been exacerbated by the pandemic, has presented other challenges. 

Social services providers have warned of a backlog in housing for people experiencing homelessness. The lack of housing units and drastically increasing rents, they say, have contributed to the system’s clog. 

Rents in Southern Nevada have risen more than 20% since 2020. A newsletter sent out by Nevada Realtors in August titled “Raise the Roof: No Rent Caps in Nevada” drew ire from some commissioners, who called the suggestion of high increases greedy.

In December, reported average rent for an average one-bedroom apartment was $1,814 in the third quarter of 2021, up from $1,487 a year ago, which represents a 22% increase. 

In September, Burch told commissioners that in a typical month there were 11,000 open apartments circulating in the market. At the time, there were only 6,000.

“Not much has changed,” he said Tuesday. 

Instead of forcing them on the streets, the financial shift approved this week would at least provide a roof over families’ heads until a longer term solution is found.

Even before the pandemic, Southern Nevada lacked 78,000 affordable units for people who made at or less than 50% of area median household income, which according to the U.S. Census Bureau data was $56,354 per household in 2019.

In the fall, the county announced it would direct $150 million of the funds it is receiving from the America Rescue Plan enacted into law in March 2021 – the county received $450 million in total – to go toward affordable housing projects. 

However, completing those projects will take time. 

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Michael Lyle
Michael Lyle

Michael Lyle (MJ to some) has been a journalist in Las Vegas for eight years.  He started his career at View Neighborhood News, the community edition of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. During his seven years with the R-J, he won several first place awards from the Nevada Press Association and was named its 2011 Journalist of Merit. He left the paper in 2017 and spent a year as a freelance journalist accumulating bylines anywhere from The Washington Post to Desert Companion. While he covers a range of topics from homelessness to the criminal justice system, he gravitates toward stories about race relations and LGBTQ issues. Born and mostly raised in Las Vegas, Lyle graduated from UNLV with a degree in Journalism and Media Studies. He is currently working on his master's in Communications through an online program at Syracuse University. In his spare time, Lyle cooks through Ina Garten recipes in hopes of one day becoming the successor to the Barefoot Contessa throne. When he isn’t cooking (or eating), he also enjoys reading, running and re-watching episodes of “Parks and Recreation.” He is also in the process of learning kickboxing.