News - September 28, 2023 - by Ray Hagar
Statistically, Las Vegas remains one of the hardest-hit cities in America when it comes to the national eviction crisis.
The crisis has been partially fueled by the end of the pandemic-era tenant protection laws and the federal eviction moratorium, experts have said.
Yet Gov. Joe Lombardo didn't help with his vetoes of three renters' rights/eviction reform bills at the end of the 2023 Legislature, said Nevada's 3rd U.S. House Rep. Steven Horsford, D-North Las Vegas.
"The unfortunate part is there were solutions that were offered during the Legislature," Horsford said on Nevada Newsmakers. "They passed the Legislature but were vetoed by the governor. And the effect of that now is there's fewer options available to Nevadans."
Las Vegas is ranked No. 3 in the nation in the number of eviction notices in the past year, with 49,871, according to the Eviction Lab, a team of researchers and students who have been studying America's eviction epidemic since 2017.
However, Aaron MacDonald, the lead attorney of the Housing Justice Program for Legal Aid of Southern Nevada, told the Nevada Independent that Las Vegas has had 60,000 eviction filings annually for the past two years.
"At a time when we're recovering from the the pandemic, when our economy is finally getting back on track, people are still trying to get on their feet," said Horsford, the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus.
The three bills vetoed by Lombardo would have, 1) halted evictions for up to 60 days for renters who have a pending application for rental assistance; 2) revised the summary eviction process; and 3) initiated sweeping reforms aimed to protect renters.
Horsford said he recently saw the crisis first-hand, spending a day watching eviction proceedings in North Las Vegas, in his 3rd Congressional District.
"I heard from veterans who were in that courtroom," he told host Sam Shad. "I saw disabled seniors. I saw pregnant women with children in the courtroom.
"And so my heart goes out to people who are looking for options and solutions and there's none available because there was a decision made to take away some of the few tools that were available to the state and to the courts," Horsford added.
"And because of that, tenants and landlords are now struggling in a way that I just don't feel like they should have to be," Horsford said.
Horsford, the first African-American to be selected as Senate Majority Leader in the Legislature (2009-13), said he has not spoken face-to-face with Lombardo but has spoken with his Chief of Staff, Ben Kieckhefer.
Kieckhefer served with Horsford in the State Senate after Kieckhefer, a Reno Republican, was first elected in 2010.
"You know, I understand everyone has a point of view here," Horsford said.
After watching the eviction proceedings, Horsford said his key takeaway was, "A lot of anxiety on behalf of tenants who sometimes due to no fault of their own, were unable to pay.
"And because of that, (tenants) were at risk of being evicted from their home," Horsford continued. "And I thought it was important as their representative, to sit through a court proceeding to observe what the process is, what they have to go through, what the barriers are for the judge and the limitations that they have."
Horsford's 3rd U.S. House District has especially been hit hard by the eviction crisis. Horsford said he represents, "700,000 constituents, many of whom are disproportionately affected by the housing affordability crisis."
But Nevada's housing crisis is not just limited to renters, he said, citing the soaring cost of owning a home. The median listing home price in Las Vegas was $441,700 in August, according to Realtor.com.
"We can't only focus on the eviction issue and not focus on making homes more affordable for people, whether that's first-time home buyers, veterans who are trying to use their VA benefits or people who are just trying to rent because they can't afford to buy in this current market," he said.
Horsford blames "out-of-state corporate speculators" for driving up rents and home prices in the Las Vegas Valley.
"It's not just the eviction issue," he said. "It's why our homes and rent going up 30 percent. Why are seniors getting a renewal on their leases, not $20 increases, but $200-a-month increases? And when I start to look and research, I'm seeing these out-of-state corporate speculators that are buying up properties that have a higher propensity to jack up rent and they have a higher propensity to pursue eviction.
"They don't take care of their properties, which lowers the values for everyone else," he said.
Horsford said he's fighting back with federal legislation.
"That's why I introduced a bill called the Home Act that would give HUD the enforcement ability to go after market manipulators and fine them and take those fines and put them into a housing trust fund so that we can actually build more housing."
e also announced that federal land surrounding Las Vegas and North Las Vegas would be turned over to affordable home builders.
"I was very pleased that BLM just announced all of the new land releases in southern Nevada will be at $100 per acre, which will be used specifically for housing.
"I'm for economic development," he said. "I'm for commercial expansion. I'm for job growth. But you have to have places where people can afford to live. And under the BLM decision, they will be able to release that land for $100 an acre, which will make the developer's ability to build and sell those units at more affordable prices."
"For example, in the northwest part of my district, there's a development that's going in to help our service members out at Creech (Air Force Base). We don't have affordable housing for our service members, let alone the people in civilian life," Horsford said.
THE CONSCIENCE OF CONGRESS: Horsford has earned national stature as the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus.
The Black Caucus currently has 58 members, soon to be 59, Horsford said. It is the largest membership in its history. It started in 1971 with 19 members. Before, black lawmakers met informally in the Democratic Select Committee in the 1960s.
Being the Black Caucus chair is a big responsibility, he said.
"We represent 80 million Americans across the United States, not just black Americans, but people who are concerned about issues around health care, jobs, the economy, how we create opportunity that's equitable, that lifts every community and doesn't leave anyone behind," he said.
"We're known as the conscience of the Congress and we advocate for issues like voting rights and social justice, environmental justice issues," he said.
"And I'm really honored to be able to lead the caucus this year, particularly at a time when Democracy, voting rights, the institutions like our schools and the courts are under attack," he said. "It's an important role because it's an important moment to protect these fundamental freedoms."