It’s no secret that low-income renters in Nevada continue to struggle in the long wake of the Great Recession. A recent study ranked our state 46th out of 50 in housing and homeownership, in part because we have the fewest number of available and affordable rental homes in the country.
For a family, there is no place like home. And for a community, there are few things as economically beneficial as building safe, stable neighborhoods that connect families to transit, jobs, education and health care. That’s why we need to invest in affordable housing.
Nearly half of Nevada renters are paying more than 30 percent of their income on housing, the widely recognized measure of affordability, and more than 150,000 Nevada households spend more than half of their total income on rent. Families with such severe burdens are often forced to make toxic trade-offs between paying for rent or food, for gas or a doctor’s appointment.
Investing in affordable housing and vibrant neighborhoods makes our economy stronger by creating thousands of construction jobs and allowing families to spend money in support of local businesses. Stronger neighborhoods attract and retain valuable employees to work in those businesses and even start their own. Decent affordable housing is more than just shelter; it is the critical foundation for upward mobility. Parents who aren’t struggling to make rent can focus on obtaining a job or excelling in their current position; children who live in safe, stable housing have a much higher chance of educational success.
Nevada’s affordable housing crisis is part of a deepening national one — demand for affordable housing is at an all-time high, and we are grossly undersupplied. Nationwide, the gap between the number of extremely low-income households and the number of affordable homes available to them has skyrocketed from 5.3 million in 2000 to 8.3 million today, a 54 percent jump. Meanwhile, an unprecedented 19 million families, one in six households, spend more than half their total income on housing costs, a number that has grown an overwhelming 82 percent since 2000.
Increasing supply will require protecting and strengthening the federal Low Income Housing Tax Credit, America’s and Nevada’s main tool for creating and preserving affordable housing for veterans, seniors, people with special needs and hard-working families. As the Senate Finance Committee — including Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev. — and its tax reform working groups prepare recommendations, it’s important for every Nevada resident and member of Congress to remember how the housing credit lifts up communities.
The Housing Credit was instrumental in financing Westcliff Pines, two affordable housing communities for low-income seniors in Las Vegas that opened in 2014. The 120 apartments at Westcliff Pines are the first in southern Nevada to achieve LEED Platinum certification, and they will remain both sustainable and affordable for years to come, offering low-income residents a stable and healthy place to call home.
Since President Ronald Reagan signed it into law in 1986, the housing credit has brought $100 billion in private capital into communities across the country. The housing credit is uniquely accountable precisely because it’s part of the tax code. Unlike in a direct spending program, credits can be reclaimed in extremely rare cases when properties fall out of compliance, meaning taxpayers can get our money back if things go wrong. Private investors assume all of the risk, claiming credits only after properties are built and occupied by income-eligible residents at affordable rents.
Making it even more efficient, the housing credit is administered by the states, which helps ensure developments such as Westcliff Pines meet the specific needs of local residents. In Nevada alone, the housing credit has built or preserved more than 26,000 affordable homes and created nearly 30,000 jobs. Along the way, it’s generated $2.83 billion in local income and $1.12 billion in tax revenues.
Without the housing credit, development and preservation of affordable housing will come to a screeching halt, deepening our housing crisis, hurting our economy and further eroding the foundation of opportunity for millions of struggling families, not only in Nevada but nationwide. Congress can ensure access to opportunity for everyone by supporting the housing credit.
Mike Mullin is founder and chief executive officer of Nevada Housing and Neighborhood Development.