Advocates push for tenant protections, affordable housing as rental assistance dries up

23 March 2023

Housing advocates and tenants gathered outside the Legislature on Wednesday afternoon to call for eviction reform and rent control, with one leader saying they were “pushing back against the housing crisis that we seem to have been stuck in for years and years now.” 

“It’s a celebration of our people and the power of our people. It’s also a fight,” Ben Iness, the coalition coordinator for the Nevada Housing Justice Alliance, said during the rally.

Several Democratic lawmakers joined the advocacy groups to highlight the return of several high-profile measures, including a bill proposing enhanced protections for tenants that failed to advanced during the 2021 legislative session and a Culinary Union-backed bill proposing to enact rent control similar to the so-called “Neighborhood Stabilization” ballot initiative the union sought to put on the ballot in North Las Vegas last year.

Even if some of the more ambitious measures are able to overcome opposition from politically powerful forces representing landlords, they would still face the threat of a veto from Gov. Joe Lombardo, a Republican who opposed rent control on the campaign trail and has focused more on streamlining permitting and licensing to address affordable housing concerns.

Lawmakers last week also discussed protections against foreclosures among homes of veterans, seniors and those with disabilities, and advocates also pushed for more transparency on fees for rental applications and housing.

During the interim, lawmakers authorized $500 million in federal relief funds from the American Rescue Plan to fund the Home Means Initiative, a program proposed by then-Gov. Steve Sisolak and used to fund new affordable housing projects and home preservation efforts.

During a Tuesday budget hearing focused on the initiative, Nevada Housing Division Administrator Steve Aichroth said the new development projects would take the longest to complete, but would be finished within the next 18-24 months.

“Ultimately, through the award process, we anticipate the creation of 2,800 new units and the preservation of over 1,000 units,” he said.

This session, legislators have placed an increased focus on solutions to the housing crisis, amid concerns that many working Nevadans are being priced out of the housing market.

Here is a look at the priority bills for housing justice advocates this session:

SB78, sponsored by Sen. Fabian Doñate (D-Las Vegas), replicates a tenants rights bill from the 2021 session (SB218) that failed amid opposition from major industry groups, including the politically powerful Nevada Association of Realtors. It would provide for a grace period of at least three days before a landlord could charge a tenant late fees, specify that a landlord could only charge an application fee to one prospective tenant at a time and prohibit increases in fees without advance notice.

AB340, sponsored by Assemblywoman Shondra Summers-Armstrong (D-Las Vegas), would overhaul Nevada’s nationally unique summary eviction process, which requires a defendant to make the first filing in an eviction case, not the landlord. Summers-Armstrong said Wednesday that the bill would bring “the process of eviction [in line] with all other civil proceedings by requiring the landlord to file a complaint with the court” to initiate the eviction process.

AB218, sponsored by Assemblywoman Venicia Considine (D-Las Vegas), is meant to increase the transparency of all fees associated with renting and prohibit fees associated with paying rent through an online payment system.

SB363, sponsored by Sen. Pat Spearman (D-North Las Vegas), would authorize the Nevada Housing Division to prioritize projects for women who are veterans, women who were previously incarcerated, survivors of domestic violence and elderly women who do not have stable or adequate living arrangements.

AB362, sponsored by Assemblywoman Clara Thomas (D-North Las Vegas), would create a cap on rent increases (based on a formula that adds 5 percent to the annual increase in the Consumer Price Index (CPI), allowing increases up to 10 percent per year). It’s similar to the rent control measure sought by the Culinary Union last year, which would have tied maximum rent increases to the CPI in North Las Vegas.

As lawmakers push for measures to stave off evictions and keep low-income Nevadans housed, another potential barrier looms in the coming few months, as rental assistance programs that delivered hundreds of millions in dollars in assistance and were funded with federal relief funds during the COVID-19 pandemic are set to expire.

Advocates are concerned that the impending loss of some rental assistance programs will contribute to an eviction crisis, as rising rents outpace the growth of wages in the state, and because the state has tens of thousands fewer affordable housing units than it needs.

Aichroth said Tuesday that the remaining Emergency Rental Assistance funds managed by Clark County are “being provided on a very limited scale, serving the most vulnerable of housing insecure populations,” but he said those funds are set to be expended by the end of April. With some additional funds set to support the program through June, Aichroth said, “rental assistance will go back to traditional rental assistance programs that the state has, or the county or local jurisdictions have, typically operated” prior to the pandemic.

Clark County was also granted $10 million for an eviction diversion program that was launched earlier this year, but with limited federal relief dollars available, housing advocates pushed for greater changes to the system as a whole to address the possibility of Nevadans losing their housing.

“We cannot move forward with another legislative session pretending like we do not have a [housing] crisis,” Summers-Armstrong said.

Editor’s Note: This story appears in Behind the Bar, The Nevada Independent’s newsletter dedicated to comprehensive coverage of the 2023 legislative session. Sign up for the newsletter here.

The post Advocates push for tenant protections, affordable housing as rental assistance dries up appeared first on The Nevada Independent.

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