Clark commissioners mull short term fixes, urge state action on rising rents

Kirkpatrick: ‘I have never been a fan of rent control, but I’m starting to be…’

By: - February 16, 2022 6:17 am

(Ronda Churchill/Nevada Current)

With more people living on fixed incomes unable to meet rising rents, Clark County officials on Tuesday began discussing a proposed targeted assistance program to keep them housed. 

County commissioners also called on the state to help local governments deal with an affordable housing crisis.

And they indicated their patience with landlords is growing thin.

County Commissioner Marilyn Kirkpatrick asked staff to provide a list of landlords who received rental assistance money to find out which ones raised rents afterward. 

“I want to go after them,” Kirkpatrick said. “If it is some of our senior partners raising that or it’s just out of state investors or people here, I would like to know.” 

Though acknowledging a new program is necessary, Clark County Commissioners worried that with rents skyrocketing more than 20% in two years – with no signs of slowing – any assistance they can provide is only a temporary solution to a larger problem. 

Kirkpatrick said the county needs more information on “what’s driving the costs” of rent, adding that the prices go beyond normal inflation and reasonable increases. 

“I have never been a fan of rent control, but I’m starting to be a fan all day long because now this is just about greed,” she said. 

Commission Chair Jim Gibson, who acknowledged the county’s social safety net is “about to the point it can’t stretch any further,” said it’s important to sit down with landlords “to make sure they understand where this is going and where, in some cases, they are driving it.”

The county also needs to “make sure we’re talking to the landlords to understand exactly what they’re facing and what the reality is,” Gibson said.

Commissioners expressed desire to see more state action to address housing affordability. 

While discussing long term solutions, like setting up another relief program, County Commissioner William McCurdy said the county needs to “talk to our Legislature about a more permanent fix to an issue we’re all experiencing.”

“When things get out of balance, it’s on our government and government officials at every level of government to provide solutions,” he said. “That is what the voters demand.” 

Kirkpatrick also said the state has to be part of long term solutions to the housing affordability crisis, adding that “this is the state’s responsibility.” 

“We can’t do this alone,” Commissioner Justin Jones added. “The state needs to step in.”

Tim Burch, the administrator of human services for Clark County, told commissioners the housing assistance program has distributed more than $220 million in rental and utility assistance during the pandemic and processed more than 57,500 applications.

“If I read one more thing in the paper or on Facebook that landlords got the shaft… They did not. We paid them all,” Kirkpatrick said.

Burch said there are still 5,700 applications for assistance pending. 

“The demand, unfortunately, has not waned,” he said, noting the the county continues to see a thousand new households apply for assistance each month.

Paying to keep someone housed, Burch added, is less expensive than if households enter homelessness, because it costs “$17,000 to rehouse a household if they actually hit the streets”

Some of the efforts to use federal relief dollars to help people behind on rent stay housed have been offset by stiff increases by landlords – in August 2021, Nevada Realtors sent out a newsletter informing members there is no rent control and they could “Raise the Roof.”

“When (rent) becomes $2,400 for the same home that you’ve lived in for ten years and then all of a sudden because landlords can, they’re increasing it…” Kirkpatrick said. “In 89102 the average rent for a 50-year-old apartment complex is $1,700 (a month), with no amenities by the way. You go to North Las Vegas and the average rent since Covid has gone up $600 for the same apartment everyone lived in.”

Kirkpatrick said one senior she spoke with has lived in her unit for a decade, has always paid her bills on time, but is getting hit with a $300 increase.

“Compounded rent raises” created what assistant county manager Kevin Schiller called a “secondary social service pandemic.” 

Those living on fixed incomes, such as people who rely on social security or social security disability, might not have fallen behind on rent payments during the pandemic but are now vulnerable to losing housing because they no longer can afford rents. 

Some of those households are entering social services for the first time. 

While still figuring out long term fixes, the county is discussing short term action mirrored off an existing eviction program created with the courts in May. The program was set up around the same time lawmakers passed legislation connecting rental assistance to the eviction process

“Whenever a tenant receives an eviction notice or a pay or quit notice on their door they can file a free response to the court,” Burch said of the program. “By doing so and enrolling in a rental assistance program it stays their eviction until social service can work that application service with them and get payment to the landlord if the landlord is participating with us.”

The existing program, he said, prevented 4,846 evictions in Southern Nevada. 

The proposed program would be geared toward people with fixed incomes who earn 50% of Area Median Income – for a family of four, the County estimates that’s between $1,876 and $3,125 per month – who are at risk of eviction or housing instability. 

The program would provide a one-time payment to catch them up on past unpaid rent and then work with people on other issues with housing stability such as finding them a new place to live and paying associated fees like deposits. 

“At a high level, the average past due amount has been about $4,000 throughout the course of this pandemic,” Burch said. “We estimate with about $4 million we can carve out, we can help about a thousand households. Those are projections because every case will be a little different.”

The county didn’t take action on the item, but is expected to review the proposal. 

Commissioners Tick Segerblom and McCurdy talked about more targeted programs, such as for seniors on fixed incomes who can’t afford higher rents. 

But the question still lingered: if they create another program to catch vulnerable populations and help them pay their rent, what stops landlords from increasing their rent again? 

Kirkpatrick used the example of another county program where people could apply for $400 one time for assistance. 

“I’m worried about what’s going to stop landlords from raising it … $400,” she said. “That’s exactly what they’ve done.”

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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.

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