Industry opposes measure to fund housing for people with mental health conditions, disabilities

By: - March 9, 2023 12:16 pm

The 20 cents for every $500 worth of value would amount to an additional $160 on a $400,000 sale and would apply to residential, commercial and retail space sales. The revenue generated would use existing federal, state and philanthropic sources to help fund supportive housing. (Photo by Ronda Churchill)

The presentation on a Nevada Senate bill that would increase the real property transfer tax by 20 cents for every $500 of value to build affordable housing for Nevadans with mental health conditions, disabilities, and who are lower income lasted 20 minutes at the Senate Committee on Revenue and Economic Development hearing on March 7. 

The testimony in support of SB 68 lasted over an hour, much of it from family members who recounted the trials of trying to find housing for their loved ones.

“There was no alternative between the hospital and the streets,” Kathy Bakst said about her son who lives with severe mental illness and whom she has guardianship over. “I’m 73 years old, I can’t take care of him forever.” 

But the Nevada Realtors and the Vegas Chamber testified against the bill, mixing opposition to a tax increase with an argument that the additional charge would be burdensome for first-time homeowners.  

The 20 cents for every $500 worth of value would amount to an additional $160 on a $400,000 sale and would apply to residential, commercial and retail space sales. The revenue generated would use existing federal, state and philanthropic sources to help fund supportive housing.

The Nevada Association of Counties also opposed the bill, on the grounds that counties’ elected bodies should decide where the funds should be allocated. Also opposed to the bill were Americans for Prosperity-Nevada, the state chapter of the right-wing political advocacy group founded by billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch, and Nevada Families for Freedom, the state affiliate of National Eagle Forum, a conservative interest group founded in the 70s to oppose the Equal Rights Amendment. 

While the Vegas Chamber is opposed, the Reno + Sparks Chamber of Commerce supported the bill.

The proposal was also supported by NAMI, Three Square Food Bank, Nevada Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence, Nevada Faculty Alliance (NCEDSV), Nevada Rural Hospital Partners and the Reno Housing Authority.

Trinh Dang, the executive director of the National Alliance of Mental Illness or NAMI Southern Nevada, whose grandmother and mother struggled with mental health throughout her childhood and teen years. The instability in the home caused her to be suicidal, she said.

“My grandma, who heard voices, was often kicked out of her home. At 16, I would drive around from place to place trying to find her a suitable living space. She wasn’t able to afford to live on her own and she wasn’t able to live with my mother, who was her only child. They would trigger each other leaving my mother hospitalized,” she said. “Our budget reflects our values.” 

What about Strip property transfer revenue? Don’t ask.

SB 68 was requested by the Clark Regional Behavioral Health Board and would need the support of a two-thirds majority in both houses of the state legislature since it involves a tax increase. In his inaugural address, Gov. Joe Lombardo promised “no new taxes.”

Asked to comment on SB 68, Lombardo spokeswoman Elizabeth Ray said via email, “We’ll monitor all bills as they work through the legislative process and engage when we feel necessary.” 

The proposed legislation is designed to help provide housing those who live with disabilities, including those with behavioral health conditions and mental disabilities who account for one in five Social Security Disability Insurance claims.

Providing housing can prevent exacerbation of mental health and substance use conditions and is one of the base needs for recovery, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Three days at University Medical Center cost taxpayers the same as three months at the Clark County Detention Center (the region’s largest prescriber of behavioral health medications) which would cost the same as one year for a single unit in supportive housing, according to a report by Sarah Adler, the NAMI Nevada Policy Specialist.

State Sen. Fabian Doñate (D-Las Vegas), the vice chair of the Senate Committee on Revenue and Economic Development, inquired why the Clark County Behavioral Health Board and NAMI did not try to address the legal loophole that allows large Strip resort real estate transactions to pay no transfer taxes on sales worth billions of dollars. 

“You may be referring to the statutory opportunity, that for example, casinos have to transfer property and not engage with the real property transfer tax. If that’s what you’re referring to, we have not touched that conversation around SB 68. That’s a statutory tool they use,” said Adler.

The taxes would be used to create a Critical Needs Fund where the state’s five Regional Behavioral Health Policy Boards (Clark, Washoe, Northern, South Rural, and Rural) in the state, with a minimum of $500,000 per region. Each of the region’s boards, which are made up of mental health experts from that community, would decide how and where the funds would be allocated and the Nevada Housing Division would oversee the distribution of those funds, with no more than 10% of the money used for administrative purposes. 

Char Frost, the chair of the Clark Regional Behavioral Health Policy Board, brought her home on the east side of the Las Vegas Valley about five years ago. 

“Federal funding to help people coming out of homelessness is not available until they have been homeless for at least 18 months,” Frost said in an interview with the Current.  

The Critical Needs Fund would give nonprofits and supportive housing in the state the money to help people before or early into their homelessness when support has better rates of success, Frost said. 

The funding serves a wide range of populations that are at risk of homelessness, but deeply intertwined for a reason, Adler said in an interview. Poverty, violence, mental health, and disabilities often overlap.

Regis Whaley, the director of advocacy and research for Three Square Food Bank, testified at the hearing that housing instability, food insecurity, and mental health conditions often occur in conjunction with each other, noting that people who experience food insecurity and housing instability report higher rates of anxiety and depression. Children experiencing food insecurity are more likely to have behavioral health problems and repeat a grade, according to the 2022 annual report on Food Security in Nevada.

Serena Evans, the policy director from NCEDSV, testified that those experiencing domestic violence also overlap with homelessness as financial abuse often accompanies physical and emotional abuse in intimate partner relationships. Nearly 44% of women in Nevada will experience domestic violence in their lifetime, according to a 2022 “Women’s Safety in Nevada” report from UNLV’s Women’s Research Institute. And Nevada lacks domestic shelter beds for those fleeing violence. 

Despite opposition from influential business interests and the governor’s no new taxes pledge, Nevada both Adler and Frost say they are optimistic about the bill passing.

Values & budgets

During her testimony, Dang recounted the struggles of how both her grandmother’s and mother’s mental health conditions impacted not just them. Dang’s grandmother was the caretaker of her and her three siblings, but during the extreme depths of her grandmother’s mental illness, they had to remove her from their home. 

“There have been periods in my life where I hold this guilt [at] the thought of having to remove her and having her removed from my home because I had to choose between her and my own mental health,” she said. 

Eventually, her grandmother was removed from a waitlist at an assisted living facility out of state where she was able to have a “safe home and place to live” Dang said at the hearing.  

At the end of her testimony, she paused in front of the Senate Committee on Revenue and Economic Development for just a moment. Her grandmother passed October 2022. 

“Our budget reflects our values,” she said. 

No action was taken on the bill.

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Camalot Todd
Camalot Todd

An award-winning, investigative and enterprise reporter, Camalot Todd has over seven years experience in print, digital, radio and TV journalism.