By Sean Golonka, Jacob Solis, & Tabitha Mueller, The Nevada Independent, June 3rd, 2023
State leaders are seeking to establish a wide-ranging homelessness assistance and prevention fund to build out supportive services in Southern Nevada through a project that could leverage as much as $200 million from the state, the gaming industry and other partners.
The measure is a joint effort between Gov. Joe Lombardo, Democratic leadership in the Legislature and the gaming industry. The funding mechanism comes in the form of a bill (AB528) introduced as an emergency request from Assembly Speaker Steve Yeager (D-Las Vegas) Friday with fewer than four days left in the Legislature’s 120-day session. The measure was heard in the Assembly Ways and Means Committee on Saturday.
“We have a lot of challenges in this state when it comes to homelessness and social services,” Yeager said during the hearing. “And so as we, as a body, decide how best to invest the state’s money, I feel this is a worthy project that could make a real difference.”
Jeremy Aguero, founder of Las Vegas-based fiscal and data research firm Applied Analysis, presented the legislation alongside Yeager.
Under the measure, the state would appropriate $100 million to a new “Homelessness Support Services Matching Account,” which could be used to provide awards to a developer that pledges at least a $75 million capital investment for the construction of a project meant to help individuals and families experiencing homelessness or at risk of homelessness through services including emergency shelters, navigation centers, health care, job training and employment assistance, transitional housing, integrated social services, affordable housing and community education and engagement.
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It’s a project that Yeager and Aguero said would build upon existing homelessness services in Clark County and involve local nonprofits to further develop services aimed at addressing the root causes of homelessness.
A 2022 Homeless Census conducted by Clark County found more than 5,600 people living in shelters or on the streets and estimated that nearly 14,000 people experienced homelessness in Southern Nevada at some point during the year.
Supporters of the effort include members of the gaming industry, housing advocates, the Clark County Public Defender’s Office, the City of Las Vegas and the state’s largest nonprofit affordable housing developer Nevada HAND, among others.
“We are very excited to have the public sector and the private sector coming together in ways that have not historically occurred,” said Kathi Thomas, the director of community services at the City of Las Vegas. “In communities that have seen significant decrease in homelessness, this is the model they have.”
As part of that plan, sources close to the project said $100 million could come from the gaming industry with other potential partners. That money would double the proposed $100 million in state money appropriated in AB528. The sources spoke on the condition of anonymity because the bill had not yet been formally presented to lawmakers.
“Nevada’s resort industry is proud to come together to be on the forefront of this transformative initiative as supporters and funders,” Nevada Resort Association President and CEO Virgina Valentine said during the bill’s hearing.
A spokesperson for the Association wrote in an email following the hearing that seven casino companies have committed to financial support: Boyd Gaming, Caesars Entertainment, MGM Resorts International, Red Rock Resorts, South Point Hotel & Casino, Venetian Resort Las Vegas and Wynn Resorts.
The bill would require the project’s total cost to be at least $150 million and have a nine-person board of directors to provide oversight. Under the bill, none of the board members could be an elected official, and there would be an advisory committee made up of nonprofits, community members and other groups involved in addressing homelessness.
Yeager said during the hearing Saturday that no specific location has been picked yet. However, he added that early conversations on the proposal had included using the current location of the Grant Sawyer state office building in Las Vegas as a potential site for such a project.
“This bill does not require that, but it certainly would be an option going forward,” Yeager said. “But I want to make clear, there’s no site anticipated. I think everyone interested in this project wants to find the best site.”
Though the details of the project have not been solidified because the first step is securing the funding via the bill’s passage, presenters said the project is inspired by the Haven for Hope in San Antonio, Texas, a place where people experiencing homelessness can go to receive shelter, housing and skill development along with counseling and wrap-around case management with an “emphasis toward addressing the root causes of homelessness.”
San Antonio’s Haven for Hope features a low-barrier, safe sleeping program that offers shelter and basic resources and a center that offers services and more traditional enclosed shelter space.
Aguero said the Southern Nevada project would operate as a hub-and-spoke model that would involve a central campus, but also establish services and transitional housing in other areas, and incorporate existing service providers.
The hub and spoke model means providers and resources would not be concentrated in one place, he said, explaining that the project would not just be relegated to one campus and would consist of services spread across Southern Nevada municipalities that could connect back to a main campus or “hub.” The model would allow people experiencing homelessness to opt in to receive any services they might need.
“We have to help meet people where they are,” Aguero said. “So that’s why there’s this hub and spoke concept to make sure that at least hopefully, that our jurisdictions are helping folks where they are and providing that outreach to allow the folks that want additional services to get those additional services.”
But the bill would not, Aguero said, “address our affordable housing challenges.”
“This project is intended to get folks back on their feet, so we can get them into that permanent supportive permanent housing situation … or other housing along that continuum,” Aguero said.
Though the bill implements a five-year timeline for development to take place and stipulates that developers have a financial operating plan for revenues and expenditures, lawmakers raised concerns about it not aligning with affordable housing projects, which have a 30-year period of affordability. Aguero indicated he had “zero objection” to stipulating the 30-year affordability metric in the legislation.
In the event project developers don’t fulfill their obligation, fail to establish the project or cancel the project midway through, the bill contains a clawback provision ensuring the state is repaid any money contributed to the project.
Asked by lawmakers about the timeline of the project, Aguero said: “From my perspective, time kills all deals.”
“You either move forward with a project, or you don’t,” he said. “And the expectation that this money would still be available two years from now, when the Legislature is forced to reconvene, seems to me to be wildly optimistic.”
No one testified in opposition to the measure.
Like a handful of other major deals — including a new potential stadium in Las Vegas for the Oakland A’s, or a $4 billion film tax proposal — the measure comes with little time for public vetting as part of the Legislature’s increasingly narrow operating window. The measure is one of the last bills to be introduced as part of the state’s 120-day legislative session, which will adjourn sine die at midnight on Monday.
This story was updated on Saturday, June 3, at 4:57 p.m. to include details from the bill’s first hearing and again at 5:27 to include a statement from the Nevada Resort Association.