By Jacqueline Flores, Reno Gazette Journal, May 11, 2023
Affordable housing is an issue that has been plaguing Nevada for years. However, it is not a problem that has arisen overnight. Several factors have contributed to the current housing crisis in the state. One of the key drivers has been a lack of affordable housing options for low-income residents. Thankfully, there is a potential solution that the Nevada Legislature can pursue: opening up public land for affordable housing.
It is worth noting that the state of Nevada owns a significant amount of land within its borders, with around 63% of the land being publicly owned. This land could be put to good use by developing affordable housing that is accessible to those who are struggling to find a place to call home.
One of the key benefits of opening up public land for affordable housing is that it can help to address the issue of housing insecurity without placing the burden on private property owners. Private landlords and developers may not have the resources to provide affordable housing options, or may not be willing to do so if they are primarily focused on maximizing profits. By contrast, the government has a responsibility to ensure that everyone has access to safe and affordable housing. By using public land to develop affordable housing, the government can take concrete steps towards meeting this responsibility.
Moreover, developing affordable housing on public land can have other positive effects on the state and its residents. For one thing, it can help to create jobs in the construction industry and related fields. This can boost the local economy and provide opportunities for people who may be struggling to find work.
In addition, affordable housing can help to reduce the overall cost of housing in the state. When people have access to affordable housing options, they are less likely to be priced out of the housing market altogether. This can help to stabilize the housing market and reduce the risk of housing bubbles or other economic downturns.
Despite these potential benefits, state and local public officials in Nevada often have blamed the issue of affordable housing on short-term rental owners and individuals who have owned their homes for years and have their own economic challenges. This is a shortsighted approach that fails to recognize the underlying systemic issues that have led to the current housing crisis.
While it is true that short-term rentals and the lack of affordable housing can be interconnected issues, they are not the root cause of the problem. Rather, the issue of affordable housing is driven by a complex set of economic, social, and political factors, including rising income inequality, insufficient investment in affordable housing, and a lack of political will to prioritize the needs of low-income residents.
Blaming short-term rental owners and longtime homeowners only serves to deflect attention from the real issues at hand, and can lead to policy decisions that do more harm than good. For example, some local governments in Nevada have enacted policies that restrict short-term rentals or impose steep fees on homeowners who participate in short-term rental platforms, depriving those homeowners the ability to earn extra income. While these policies may be well-intentioned, they can also have the unintended consequence of reducing the supply of available housing options, driving up rental prices even further, and punishing existing homeowners by depriving them from using their property to make ends meet.
One major factor local and state officials ignore is the fact that Nevada enjoyed a prolonged period of low mortgage interest rates and home prices, especially in contrast to more expensive cities throughout the country. However, the influx of out-of-state homebuyers relocating and seeking more affordable housing options like Nevada since COVID contributed to the surge in demand, further driving up home prices. The current scenario in the housing market has been that of a cooling effect due to the Fed’s interest rate hikes, which has led to a decrease in demand for homes, thereby resulting in a decline in home prices.
In summary, opening up public land for affordable housing is a potential solution to the pressing issue of housing insecurity in Nevada. By leveraging the state’s substantial land holdings, the government can take concrete steps towards ensuring that everyone has access to safe and affordable housing. This can have positive effects on the state’s economy, its residents, and its overall quality of life. However, it is important for state and local public officials to recognize that blaming short-term rental owners, landlords and longtime private property owners is not a productive approach. Rather, policymakers must take a comprehensive and nuanced approach to the issue of affordable housing, and work towards solutions that benefit everyone in the community.
Jacqueline Flores is a homeowner in Clark County, Nevada and founder of the Greater Las Vegas Short-Term Rental Association.