Faith-based group urges Clark County to do more to address housing crisis

By: - April 1, 2022 7:24 am

“We asked the first unit if the residence had any school-aged children,” said Paul Hansen with Nevadans for the Common Good. “They told us no they were just short term vacation renters – tourists.” (Photo: Michael Lyle)

When going around to speak with neighbors in the downtown area recently, Pastor Paul Hansen started knocking on doors at a small, six-unit complex that usually rented for less than $1,000 a month. 

As a member of Nevadans for the Common Good, a faith-based coalition that organizes around social justice issues including housing affordability, he was hoping to speak with renters about what’s happening in their neighborhood, which included collecting their thoughts about changes at nearby school John S. Park Elementary.

“We asked the first unit if the residence had any school-aged children,” he said. “They told us no they were just short term vacation renters – tourists.”

As it turned out, every unit in the building, as well as the six-unit building next door, was occupied by short-term renters visiting.

“There were 12 units right in that complex where we were expecting to be residents and neighborhoods interested in the nearby school,” he said.  “That’s 12 units that were all off the market and filled with tourists, reducing the housing stock for people who live here.”

At a time where rents are rising to unaffordable rates and housing stock is scarce, Barbara Paulsen, who leads Nevadans for the Common good, said the volume of short-term rentals is eating into the already limited supply of affordable housing. 

“At least 10,000 homes on the market are short term vacation rentals or Airbnb, which might be good for tourists but not long term renters and buyers – our teachers, nurses and hospitality workers and many others,” she said.

Paulsen joined members of the faith coalition Wednesday to speak with Clark County Commissioner Justin Jones about regulating short-term rentals, building affordable housing and increasing protections for renters.  

Commissioners Marylin Kirkpatrick and Ross Miller were invited to speak but declined.

The group is hosting a series of meetings revolving around housing affordability in April and May and have invited other commissioners in order to ask more questions on where the county is headed. 

They are hoping to galvanize their members to encourage elected officials to better address the housing crisis and struggles faced by renters. The organization is hoping lawmakers consider taking additional steps to restrict vacation rentals. 

Clark County, prompted by state legislation, is in the process of establishing restrictions on vacation rentals and capping the number of licenses at 2,800.

While the organization supports the proposal, Paulsen asked Jones to consider adding an additional requirement “that the owner of the property is a resident or lives at the property at least part time.”

Jones said yes. 

“One of the things that came out of the meeting last week was that seemingly everyone is ok with the concept of homes where the owner is present but they might be interested in renting out a room,” Jones said, referring to a recent rental forum the county hosted. “We heard a little bit about the drastic issues we have with housing affordability. I think this is one of those compromises where people are able to find housing and also support folks who are creating their own small businesses.”

But regulating the short-term rental market, potentially opening up thousands of units, would only do so much to address the housing crisis. 

“Two years ago, when we talked about the housing shortage we were talking about 69,000 to 70,000 units we were short,” Jones told the group. “Today, it’s 85,000. We have lost an additional 15,000 housing units. As a result of landlords increasing rents so much, the number of affordable housing units is only getting worse.”

Long term answers to short term problem

Those sharing their stories Wednesday are all too familiar with the high costs of rent. 

Noah Cicero, who has lived in Southern Nevada since 2013, said his rent was only $750 for a one when he moved here from Ohio. The complex near Rainbow Boulevard and Smoke Ranch Road slowly increased to $865 until last year.

“Apartments in my community are now $1,300 for a one-bedroom and $1,926 for a three bedroom,” he said. “Landlords and mortgage companies need to make a profit, but not on the backs of working people. I’m afraid if we don’t do something about the cost of housing, our streets will be filled with homeless people and people like my family will not have an affordable place to live.” 

Leslie Jeanos, who takes care of seven children, her six nieces and nephews and grandson, said she and her husband lost jobs during the pandemic. 

Their lease expired last year while the family was waiting for their CARES Housing Assistance Program application to be processed to pay unpaid rent. 

“Our landlord gave us notice to move and we moved into a one-bedroom Budget Suites with ten people,” she said. “My husband finally returned to work but he is on oxygen due to Covid. Since June, we have been looking for housing with no luck.”

Because they have been unemployed for more than a year and have a credit score less than 650, they have not been able to obtain another apartment. 

“Due to Covid, we have none of these,” she said. “I’ve never been this close to the edge before.”

Jones told the organization the county is prioritizing American Rescue Plan dollars to build more affordable housing, but it’s going to take time before projects are constructed. 

“If any of you know how much it takes to build an apartment building, to deal with the financing on the front end, we’re talking several years,” he said. “During those years, in which we’re trying to get these projects underway, more affordability issues are only going to continue to add up. We are doing the best we can. We are looking at other options that will  get people into units faster.”

In addition to building housing, the group called for more tenant protections to be implemented at the state and local level. 

In 2020, Jones sponsored an ordinance to prevent rental discrimination base on source of income, such as housing choice vouchers or Section 8. He said it expires whenever the covid-prompted statewide emergency directive is lifted by the governor.

Paulsen said the group would like to see a similar proposal passed statewide – lawmakers considered a bill offering statewide protections during the 2021 legislative session, but nothing was passed. 

Following the meeting, Paulsen said the organization is planning to push lawmakers to address the eviction process in the 2023 Legislative Session. 

“In most states, both the landlord and tenant have to interact with the court for an eviction to occur but in Nevada it’s up to the tenant,” she said, referring to the summary eviction process unique to the state.

Tenants in Nevada have to take action and respond to an eviction or risk being evicted without setting foot in court. 

“We’ve tried to address this in past legislatures, but it’s never gone anywhere,” she said. 

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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.