Local officials mostly mum on legislation granting them authority to address housing crisis
After citing state laws for limiting their ability to tackle skyrocketing rent, local officials are conspicuously quiet about a bill that would empower them to do that. (Photo by Ronda Churchill/Nevada Current))
As rents skyrocketed in the aftermath of the pandemic and have continued squeezing Nevadans in the last year, local officials on numerous occasions stressed state law restricted them from taking action to address the housing crisis.
Now given a chance to weigh in on legislation that would clarify their authority, local governments have been mostly silent on the matter.
Senate Bill 371 would expressly give counties and cities the authority to “enact any ordinance or measure relating to affordable housing.”
While the bill identifies “rent control” as a potential action governments can take, Democratic state Sen. Edgar Flores said it is one example of numerous options open to municipalities if they choose to act.
The legislation passed the Senate 12-9 in April with Democratic state Sen. Skip Daly joining Republicans to oppose the measure.
The bill was heard by the Assembly Government Affairs Committee Wednesday and has until Friday to pass out of committee.
Other than Reno City Councilwoman Jenny Brekhus, who submitted testimony in support of the bill, no local official or lobbyist representing governments has publicly commented during the bill’s various hearings.
SB 371 comes as local governments face a housing and homeless crisis, which includes rents rising more than 20% statewide, limited housing stock and an increased number of people entering homelessness.
Dillon’s rule, a governing principle that Nevada abides by that limits local authority to actions expressly authorized by the state, is the reason many local officials cite as being unable to respond to the crisis.
During a February 2022 meeting, 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” while County Commissioner Justin Jones said “the state needs to step in.”
Clark County didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Jeffrey Rogan, a Clark County lobbyist who has testified on numerous bills, told the Nevada Current he’s “not authorized to speak on the record” about the bill.
In an email Jace Radke, a spokesman with the City of Las Vegas, said “the city is neutral on that bill at this time and is monitoring it.”
He wouldn’t clarify the reason why.
North Las Vegas declined to comment.
Candidates running for North Las Vegas mayor in 2022 were also asked at a forum if they would commit to enact rent control if the state legislature were to allow it.
Mayor Pamela Goynes-Brown, who won election, said she “didn’t have a problem with that.”
Policies have consequences
Brekhus, whose testimony also included emails from Reno residents facing housing insecurity, said housing affordability has declined since the Great Recession.
She said part of the reason can be traced to policy decisions made by state lawmakers.
“The reason for this is multi-faceted but the origin in my belief was an outcome of state legislative policy,” Brekhus said. “This is known as the Tesla effect resulting from ramped up population and job growth due to tax subsidies to that business and others.”
Other factors she listed included investment companies purchasing single family homes, the housing market failing to modernize and “Trump era tax cuts that incentivized Californians to leave the state because they could no longer deduct state income taxes from US income taxes.”
Though SB 371 does not mandate local governments to take any action, in particular on capping rent rates, Brekhus noted the legislation would make it an option.
Lawmakers, she wrote, should “not let anyone convince you that rent control is not a path toward addressing homelessness, economic stability, and poverty reduction.”
Flores, as well as the Legislative Counsel Bureau, have maintained that local governments already have the authority to enact policies to address the housing crisis. The bill only seeks to clarify that authority.
The bill, if passed, would allow governments to consider other policies such as inclusionary zoning, which requires a certain portion of new residential construction to go to affordable housing projects, or requiring builders to include low income housing in new developments or pay additional fees to be used to create affordable housing.
But the example of “rent control” drew the most ire.
The Nevada Realtors, which gave a presentation against the bill during this week’s hearing, said the legislation would create confusion by allowing localities to create different and conflicting rules around affordable housing and rent regulations.
“The cities of North Las Vegas, Henderson and Las Vegas would all have different affordable housing policies than the counties they reside in, making it extremely difficult for residents, property owners and state agencies to navigate,” said Azim Jessa, a lobbyist for the Nevada Realtors.
Erika Minaberry, a Reno resident in support of the bill, urged lawmakers to give local governments “the clear directive that they are able to help us.”
“When we ask our local government bodies for reprieve, they blame this state body for the reason why they can’t help us,” she said.
Minaberry said she had to relinquish custody of her three children in 2018 because of housing insecurity but was able to get them back 18 months later. Since then, she’s had to move every year due to rising rents and currently works multiple jobs to afford $2,050 a month.
“As a single mother with three kids working multiple jobs without any assistance, if my landlord decides to raise my rent I will not have a place to stay,” she said. “I will not know where to go. My kids and I are terrified to be separated again.”
Some of the lawmakers questioned the notion of local control altogether.
Democratic Assemblywoman Selena Torres, who chairs the committee, expressed “unease” with the bill, saying “it’s putting a lot of faith in our local governments.”
Some members of city councils and county commissions in Nevada “would say the same exact thing about us,” Flores responded.
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