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OPINION: Making more space available may not solve Nevada's housing crisis

Steve Fong
Steve Fong

My father was born in Manhattan and grew up with his five brothers in a one-bedroom tenement apartment in the Lower East Side. His story is of a poor but successful immigrant family as my grandfather worked hard in his laundry and restaurant while his sons educated themselves. Eventually, my grandfather purchased the entire building and he doubled their living space to two bedrooms for the seven of them. Apparently, he did not abandon the discomfortable thrift that achieved our family's financial security. 

Eventually my father married and moved his wife and two kids to the marginally less populated Bronx. There we lived in the center of a row of six narrow houses with decrepitly aromatic neighbors on one side and on the other, the most educated racist I've ever met — a high school teacher who said stupid and cruel things. I spent a lot of time inside. 

When my parents retired, they were able to achieve my father's dream by purchasing a home in Las Vegas to indulge his gambling habits. Thanks to incredibly low prices after the housing crisis of 2008, they were able to buy a large house with four bedrooms in North Las Vegas for less than half of the original 2005 price. Now there is plenty of space for their children and grandkids. 

However, according to Republican Gov. Joe Lombardo, this dream of home ownership will be over for many others as Las Vegas is quickly running out of space to build new housing thanks to Biden administration policies, particularly the preservation of culturally and ecological significant landscapes protected by the federal government. 

While I am no housing or economic expert, this line caught my eye from the op-ed, I’m the Governor of Nevada. This Is Why Trump Is Doing So Well With Our Voters, how if President Joe Biden "released 50,000 acres around Las Vegas, this land would provide for the potential construction of up to 335,000 homes." 

Las Vegas is blessed with thousands of acres of natural beauty just on the outskirts of Clark County. While I have spent much time in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area and Sloan Canyon National Conservation Area, I most frequently visit the almost 200,000 acre Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. 

I have ridden Red Rock Canyon Scenic Drive several times, one of the world's most beautiful routes that winds through epic sandstone cliff formations. More recently, I have been mountain biking at Cliff Shadows, which is close to my family's home but continues to shock me how desolate the desert trails are, despite being a few hundred yards from new gated communities. 

When l travel to the northwest corner to access the trails, there are many markers of development: billboards on empty lots proclaiming new homes soon. It seems inconceivable that in less than a decade every nook and cranny will have a house. 

Lombardo quotes this analysis sponsored by Southern Nevada Home Builders Association as how future land availability will quickly evaporate as the Clark County population grows.

However, this article, Las Vegas Is Counting on Public Lands to Power its Growth. Is it a Good Idea? counters many of its points, including how building codes "prevents higher-density developments near low-density developments, like many suburban, master-planned communities, which further limits growth." It also advocates building "medium-density, mixed-use communities, and more public transportation" as the responsible approach to climate change, necessary as temperatures rise and water levels drop. 

He also mentions President Biden "unilaterally designating" Avi Kwa Ame as a national monument, then oddly adding how the protected space is two and half times larger than New York City. The Clark County Commission supported creating this monument, but the comparison of remote desert to the incredibly dense New York City is strange, considering it was built out over the centuries with few controls. Is Lombardo trying to suggest that if urban planners design within city limits as opposed to building homes to the state borders Las Vegas will become as crowded as Manhattan? 

Las Vegas has the opportunity to have it all, a well-designed metropolis that will satisfy a growing population, while enjoying a pristine desert environment only miles from the city center. Protecting federal conservation lands is the key.

Steve Fong, a part-time resident of North Las Vegas, is a California transit and bike advocate.

The Nevada Independent welcomes informed, cogent rebuttals to opinion pieces such as this. Send them to [email protected].


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