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COMMENTARY: Affordable housing a vital issue for Southern Nevada

The Review Journal’s Feb.12 editorial, “Keep government out of housing,” asserts that government should not have a role in solving the housing affordability problem in Nevada. The assertion that the “simple” solution to the problem is “roommates” insults many families and seniors in our community who are struggling to make ends meet. While getting a roommate may work for young, new entrants into the workforce — a strategy I used until I was 30 — it is not a real solution to the problem.

To be clear, the availability of affordable workforce and senior housing is a serious issue that our community currently faces. It will continue to worsen without action.

The editorial argues that this is, in part, a supply problem — and I agree. However, this is exacerbated by the imposed land constraints on the growth of the Las Vegas Valley that have had a large impact on development costs. Couple this with restrictive local zoning constraints, federal taxes on lumber and building materials and NIMBYism and the result is that developers can afford to build only high-end products to the detriment of housing for lower- and middle-income families.

While new supply of multi-family developments is being added to the market, rental rates are at the top end of pricing scale, with one-bedroom apartments in the $1,200 per month range. This scale forces families to spend a disproportionate amount of their income on housing, at the expense of food, clothing, health care and other necessities.

According to a 2015 report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition, for every 100 renter households in Nevada that earn less than $30,000 per year, there are only 39 affordable homes available to them. These working families and seniors on fixed incomes are spending more and more on housing, leaving them one financial event — such as a car repair — away from homelessness.

To be fair, state Sen. Julie Ratti’s Interim Committee on Affordable Housing is doing exactly what the editorial suggests needs to be done — researching policy strategies to remove the barriers to the development of housing that is affordable to a broad range of household incomes. Rent control is not one of the strategies being discussed and is not supported by the senator or the committee. Rather the committee is looking to the public and private sectors to provide reasonable policy recommendations that will improve the supply of housing in our state.

I applaud state Sen. Ratti and her committee for the work that they are doing. Ensuring that our state has adequate housing that is affordable at all income levels is critical to economic development, family sustainability, health care outcomes and educational success. The Interim Committee on Affordable Housing is looking at strategies that have been proven in other states to be effective — and that does not include rent control or roomies.

Let’s support them in their efforts. Our community well-being depends upon it.

Mike Mullin is founder and president of Nevada HAND, a nonprofit dedicated to providing affordable housing solutions in Southern Nevada.

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