It’s easy to feel bad for someone facing eviction. It’s much harder to craft policies that keep people in their homes without hurting future renters.
By Las Vegas Review-Journal Editorial Board, October 22, 2023
It’s easy to feel bad for those facing eviction. It’s much harder to craft policies that keep people in their homes without harming future renters.
A group of Nevada politicians recently watched eviction proceedings at Las Vegas Justice Court. Their visit was organized by the Nevada Housing Justice Alliance. That’s a left-wing group looking to “solve the root causes of housing insecurity.”
That’s a laudable goal, but they aren’t going to advance it very far simply by observing eviction proceedings. Court proceedings are the final step of the process. Those seeking to identify the “root causes” of eviction need a more comprehensive picture.
Most evictions occur because renters don’t pay their rent.
For instance, Clark County Commissioner William McCurdy noted the average proceeding lasted fewer than two minutes. That’s because these aren’t complicated matters. Renters entered a contract to pay their rent in return for housing. They didn’t. The consequence is eviction. A judge’s job is to enforce these contracts.
Some politicians push for rental assistance and other programs to help people struggling to pay their rent. At least such programs are an attempt to help renters honor the contracts they entered into. Nevada has rental assistance initiatives funded at both the state and local levels. But the application process is so poorly run that renters aren’t receiving assistance until it’s too late.
If politicians wanted to stop evictions, one would think they would focus on fixing those poorly run programs. Don’t hold your breath.
But housing issues are, at core, a reflection of market conditions. Lowering or stabilizing rental costs should be the goal. Heavy-handed methods, such as rent control, have an obvious downside. Yes, they provide tangible benefits to the lucky few who are currently renting. But they discourage investment in new rental properties and discourage landlords from maintaining and upgrading existing ones. As Swedish economist Assar Lindbeck famously noted, “In many cases rent control appears to be the most efficient technique presently known to destroy a city — except for bombing.”
The preferred alternative should be for elected officials to pursue policies that lower the cost of building and increase the housing supply. Demanding that Congress make more federal land available for development is an obvious place to start. Make the permitting process as streamlined as possible. Ensure Nevada’s construction defects law isn’t a piggybank for trial lawyers.
That’s harder, less glamorous work. But it’s what addressing the root causes of housing insecurity actually requires.