Lawmakers eye more money for rental assistance program while county struggles to approve applicants

By: - April 4, 2023 5:31 am

Rental assistance is paid directly to the landlord. (Photo by Ronda Churchill/Nevada Current)

As demand for rental assistance persists in Southern Nevada, state lawmakers are looking to allocate more than $44 million to Clark County to aid two programs helping people living on fixed incomes who are facing eviction.  

Meanwhile, the county’s current iteration of rental assistance has denied far more applications than it has approved so far.

One new rental assistance program, which is available through an eviction diversion program in Las Vegas Justice Court, had 1,682 application since launching Jan. 23. In an email to the Nevada Current, the county said only one application has been approved while 922 have been denied.

Erik Pappa, a spokesman with Clark County, said the county saw higher approval rates with previous rental assistance applications.

“This is a new program and we are finding that the current community need differs from the needs seen prior to and during the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said. “We are actively reviewing our data and eligibility requirements to make the adjustments needed to ensure the residents of Clark County receive the support they need.”

Despite rocky processing lengths, Assembly Bill 396, heard Monday by the Assembly Ways and Means committee, would make a $22 million appropriation to Clark County in the 2023-24 and 2024-25 fiscal years to keep rental assistance programs going.

Since the start of the pandemic, the county has used federal relief funding to set up a rental assistance program, known as CARES Housing Assistance Program (CHAP), which allocated more than $375 million that went to help an estimated 70,000 households.

Due to dwindling federal dollars, Clark County scaled back its rental assistance to the new program in January to apply to a more limited population. Rental assistance is paid directly to the landlord in both programs. 

Joanna Jacob, the government affairs manager for Clark County, told lawmakers Monday the county still has 2,300 applications for its large scale rental assistance that were submitted prior to the Jan. 23 cutoff and are still waiting to be processed. Those applications haven’t received a case worker yet.

Applicants seeking rental assistance available through the eviction diversion must have received an eviction notice and filed an answer with the court. To be eligible, they also have to show financial circumstances have recently changed and show they have paid rent for 12 months prior.  

It’s also limited to people making 60% of area median income.

“Clark County estimated that 15% of 50,000 households facing evictions each year would qualify,” said Democratic Assemblywoman Shea Backus, who presented AB 396. 

The newer rental assistance program is for households with at least one person living on a fixed income, such as Social Security. In order to be eligible, they must have seen a rent increase within the last 12 months and received an eviction notice. The program is capped for households making 50% of area median income.

While CHAP was originally set up to provide rental assistance in response to the pandemic and high numbers of unemployment that resulted when businesses were shut down to mitigate the spread of Covid, the need of applicants changed overtime. 

Jacob said they “had people coming in who couldn’t pay rent because of market conditions.” 

Though the county fully transitioned to limiting CHAP for those on fixed incomes or part of the eviction diversion program in January, Jacob said it has been accepting “fixed income” CHAP since September. In an email to the Current, the county said it received 1,099 applications for that program since Sept. 17, and that 175 applications have been approved while 359 have been denied.

In addition to more funds, the legislation would also require reports on the program’s performance to the Interim Finance Committee. 

Discussion around funding for rental assistance comes as people are still struggling to afford housing.

Backus said that since 2019 “through the second quarter of 2022, market rate rents in Las Vegas increased by 33.1%” 

Citing the U.S. Census Bureau Household Pulse Survey, Backus said that in January “49.8% of adults in Nevada experienced difficulty paying for the usual household expenses in the last seven days.”

“In the first week of 2023, Las Vegas had the most eviction filings among all major US cities,” she said. 

The number might be an underestimate since Nevada’s summary eviction process requires tenants be the first to file with court and data doesn’t capture the amount of pay or quit notices landlords give tenants.   

Jacob said those who don’t qualify for the latest CHAP assistance are referred to other housing programs through the county. 

“They are in a queue and working with a case worker,” she said. “We look to see where we can help them if they don’t qualify.”

Republican Assemblyman Gregory Hafen asked why requests for rental assistance funds were being restricted to Clark County. 

Jonathan Norman, the statewide advocacy, outreach and policy director for Nevada Coalition of Legal Service Providers, said while people are hurting throughout the state, Clark County is the epicenter of the crisis. 

“With Clark County, the uniqueness is they have the diversion program set up for evictions and the money is flowing to boost those two programs,” Norman said. “That’s seen as a pilot program in our state and I’m hoping other jurisdictions can stand up diversion court programs.”

The committee took no action on the legislation. 

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.