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How We Fix Nevada’s Housing Crisis
Brandon Davis
July 6, 2022

affordable housing crisis las vegas neighborhood

Nevada is in an affordable housing crisis, and our government is responsible.

A lack of available land, draconian zoning laws, and unnecessary burdens on developers are all government-initiated factors to why housing prices are so high.

This is an issue that every Nevadan has experienced, renters and owners alike. While you’ll hear talking heads and lazy politicians suggest rent controls and government mandated restrictions on property owners, you won’t, however, hear any discussion about real solutions that address the root cause of the issue.

I’ll dive into the facts, enumerate the issues, and provide real solutions based on data. The problem is, and SPOILER ALERT, government.

THE FACTS:

  • Nevada ranks No. 43 in the US for housing affordability.
  • 80 percent of the land in Nevada is owned by government entities (both federal and state). If 80 percent of Nevada land is off-limits to private housing development, reduced supply will, inevitably, drive up prices over time. So, government (again) plays a big part in why we’re in the affordable housing crisis we’re in.
  • Nevada has undergone massive population growth, amongst the highest in the nation.
  • Nevada’s unemployment rate is above the national average.
  • A lack of supply and an increase in demand is the cause of skyrocketing housing prices, not, as some politicians would lead you to believe, the “greed” of property owners and corporations. If there was more supply, prices would HAVE to fall as owners become more competitive in the market.
  • Put simply, a key driver of housing affordability is the availability of land for development.

 

ZONING:

It’s time for Nevada to abolish a variety of stringent zoning laws if we are to build more affordable, vibrant, equitable, and sustainable cities. Inflexible zoning laws create arbitrary restrictions, cripple growth, and are a major contributing factor to Nevada’s affordable housing crisis.

Zoning heavily restricts the amount of housing that may be built in any given neighborhood, what type of housing is permitted to be built, and the size of the housing unit(s). Zoning restrictions severely limit new housing development and cause median housing prices to outpace median incomes. A lack of supply and competition creates wildly inflated prices, in turn forcing Nevadans to struggle to afford rising rent prices or to purchase a home.

Nolan Gray from the Mercatus Center at GMU said it best; “Tucked away behind a veil of ‘protecting community character,’ zoning has been used to determine who gets to live where since its inception. In practice, this has been used toward the end of rigid economic segregation, which in the American context often means racial segregation. In virtually every suburb in America, zoning maintains a kind of technocratic apartheid, preserving those areas most suitable for housing for the wealthy while locking less privileged Americans into neglected areas far from good jobs and quality public services.”

All over the US, one can easily find cities that allow for strategies to affordable housing such as “building up” and other friendly forms of urban growth. Think apartments above businesses, corner groceries in neighborhoods, garages or older buildings converted into new living spaces, and more. Las Vegas, for example, is void of any of these innovations directly because existing zoning laws do not allow it.

We must reform or outright abolish such city and county zoning laws if we are to make Nevada more affordable and livable for everyone. Removing restrictions like apartment bans, minimum lot size restrictions, parking requirements, and barriers to multi-use properties is key. We must begin to build “up” instead of building “out”. We must transition from NIMBYism to YIMBYism.

According to https://files.clarkcountynv.gov/clarknv/Historical_Housing_Units_by_Place.pdf there were 543,036 single family homes in Clark County as of 2020. If merely 1% of these homes were legally able to be split into 2 units, such an allowance would generate nearly 5,500 new units. That alone would dramatically put more competition in the market, causing prices to decrease. Not to mention, house citizens at diverse points. That’s it, just 1%. Such a small number has the power to change lives. Elected officials know this, we just need them to take a stand for Nevadans.

 

BARRIERS TO DEVELOPMENT

Real estate and property developers are the key players in fixing our housing crisis. They have the desire to create more inventory, but they often face outsized barriers and challenges from local and state governments that limit them from doing their jobs. Zoning, plan approvals & permits, and development regulations are all major contributors which discourage developers from building new and affordable properties. It can take sometimes as long as 5 years for a developer to get from start to finish on a large housing development due to unnecessary bureaucratic red tape that does little to nothing in regards to safety, environmental factors, or serving potential dwellers.

barriers to development in nevada

 

And, while developers are often vilified by politicians as greedy corporatists, such a caricature is only self serving. In fact, Par Tolles, CEO for Tolles Development Company, has been quoted in saying “Removing and reducing regulatory barriers at all levels will allow more affordable housing to be built by reducing the cost of building for developers.” He’s not wrong.

The bottom line is that Nevada must make it easier for developers to operate, build, and innovate in our state. We can do so without compromising safety and environmental impacts. We simply need our elected officials to put in the work to remove these barriers and restrictions before it’s too late.

 

CONCLUSION

Sadly, our current Governor, legislators, and local elected officials are showing zero interest in addressing the root causes of our affordable housing crisis. Instead, they are throwing money at the problem (just like they have done to our failing public education system– another ineffective tactic) merely for photo ops and PR stunts. The illusion of doing “good” is more detrimental than the act of doing nothing. To know the issue, to be aware of the steps to fix it, and to choose NOT to take those steps is incomprehensible.

As Governor, I will work with local municipalities and encourage the to take actionable steps to reduce and/or outright abolish zoning restrictions that keep Nevadans from living successfully in our state. I’ll remove the stringent barriers and restrictions that developers face to building more housing. I’ll work with developers to create innovative multi-use properties that expand up, instead of out. I’ll make sure we do so with safety, environmental impact, sustainability, and Nevada families in mind. This is how Nevada moves forward. If the things I previously mentioned aren’t important to your current elected official, vote them out.

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