IndyFest panel: Affordable housing advocates should keep community in mind
Despite struggling to find agreement on what constitutes affordable housing, a panel of experts recently agreed that keeping Nevadans' particular needs in mind is key to solving one of the state’s biggest economic challenges.
Nevada Legal Services Deputy Executive Director Alex Cherup, Assemblywoman Shondra Summers-Armstrong (D-Las Vegas), Jessa Group Real Estate Agent Azim Jessa and Senior Managing Director for the AFL-CIO Housing Investment Trust Ted Chandler discussed the many problems driving rising costs in Nevada’s housing market.
Here are the highlights from the panel, dubbed “Big Ideas for Creating Affordable Housing” and moderated by reporter Tabitha Mueller, at The Nevada Independent’s annual conference focused around policy and politics.
Defining affordable housing
What affordable housing is depends on who you ask. Chandler said housing that is deemed affordable differs, for example, when he is working with clients who make the median income in Nevada compared with those who earn more than the median.
“If I could wave a magic wand, the median household income would match the median home price,” said Jessa, the real estate agent.
But Cherup, a legal aid attorney, mentioned a fairly common affordable housing definition, which is no more than 30 percent of a household's gross income.
Summers-Armstrong said she had a more “humanistic perspective” on the definition of affordable housing. She believes housing should only be considered affordable if someone can afford the housing as well as food, transportation and extracurricular activities.
“Affordable housing to me is really holistic,” Summers-Armstrong said. “And it doesn't stand just by a norm that we're used to, which is the 30 percent. But it looks at the whole family, the whole human.”
Bolstering supply with community in mind
Panelists agreed there is a need for collaboration among local governments, the Legislature and residents to combat the effects of housing unaffordability while more units are built.
Summers-Armstrong said she had met with Southern Nevada Housing Regional Housing Authority Executive Director Lewis Jordan the week prior to the conference and that he told her the region was 90,000 affordable housing units short to provide the population with adequate supply.
“The boomers are staying healthier, they're staying in their homes longer,” Jessa said. “And so this traditional cycle of moving up and moving to that next home isn't available. We've got a bit of a logjam. So we certainly need more inventory.”
Local governments could assist in bolstering inventory by streamlining permitting in order to cut down the cost of construction, Jessa said.
Mueller asked what can be done in the meantime to not only help people attain affordable housing but retain it.
“Obviously, we need to get stocked, but that's going to take time,” Mueller said.
Jessa said he did not think it had to take a significant amount of time to develop more affordable housing.
“Here in Nevada, the speed and the scale at which the state and the cities have demonstrated they can move is extraordinary on a national level,” Jessa said.
Jessa shared the example of the City of Las Vegas developing 1,500 housing units on the Desert Pines golf course within a year and a half.
Knowing your rights
In addition to panelists discussing policy solutions to the housing crisis, Cherup said he wanted to bring a legal perspective to the conversation, specifically for those who have an eviction or an old criminal conviction in their background.
During the 2023 legislative session, Sen. Dina Neal (D-North Las Vegas) attempted to make it illegal, through SB143, for landlords to discriminate against people with a criminal record who are seeking housing. However, the bill died before it made it to the governor’s desk.
Similar services exist for people looking to seal eviction records.
Nevadans are subject to a unique summary eviction process that puts the onus on the tenant — not the landlord — to make the first filing in an eviction. Summers-Armstrong tried to amend this process with support from both parties during the 2023 legislative session, but Gov. Joe Lombardo vetoed the measure (AB340).
Cherup said because the state has unique eviction procedures, the law can confuse residents and one way to keep people housed is for residents to know the legal protections and resources available to them.
Summers-Armstrong said she wanted people to know that there’s more to consider than just cost when it comes to housing.
“We look at these things, I think, often just from dollars and cents,” she said. “But what about the community effect? To me, that's what's most important … We have an opportunity in Nevada. She's fabulous. She's beautiful. We have an opportunity to do something different here. And I think that we should stand up and do that.”
Another factor affecting affordable housing are hedge funds that purchase homes in low-income neighborhoods for the purpose of renting them out, driving up costs, Jessa and Summers-Armstrong said.
Jessa said it is important to make housing available to people within those neighborhoods as well.
“Rent in those markets is increasing at a higher level,” Jessa said. “We want to get those homes back into the hands of the homeowners who live there … We want to make sure that it's accessible for them.”