Across much of the U.S., housing prices have skyrocketed in the last two years, while the inventory of available homes for sale has declined. With more people now opting to work from home, many are leaving larger cities and looking for housing in other regions. This has resulted in a worsening of the housing crisis for many, and that crisis has also overflowed into the rental market.
In Nevada, where affordable homes have become almost extinct, rental rates have climbed to the point of being untenable for many families and there appears to be no end in sight.
Information from Rent.com shows that an average one-bedroom apartment in Nevada went from just under $1,500 per month to more than $1,800 per month in the last year, a 22 percent increase and one of the largest rent hikes in the country.
This puts lower income families in Nevada at greater risk of being unable to afford housing, and in a state already anticipating a spike in homelessness over the next couple years, there could be even more families losing their homes as rents continue to rise.
The City of Las Vegas is working to circumvent the rental problem by building new, affordable housing complexes for low-income families and seniors. One such community will be Decatur Commons, which has almost 500 low-income units and is slated for completion by late spring of 2022. Decatur Commons will offer half of their apartments to families and the other half to seniors who earn between 30 and 80 percent of median income for the area.
But price gouging by unscrupulous landlords is slowing progress on affordable housing. Nevada law doesn’t allow much recourse for tenants who are pushed out of their homes due to rent increases. A landlord can increase rents as often and for as much as they like, as long as they give proper notice and the tenant isn’t currently in a lease. That means some landlords are jumping on the rent-hike bandwagon as soon as their tenant’s leases are up, not allowing them to renew at current rates and raising rents for any new lease agreements.
Jennone Bezgin, a 77 year-old African American woman living in Las Vegas who is struggling to make ends meet said her property management company, Global Properties, has raised rents from $490 to $625 a month since 2016. As a retired senior on medical disability, she lives on less than $1,000 a month. “I’m now facing eviction because I’ve fallen behind on rental payments,” she said.
Jennone is not alone. The average renter in Las Vegas already pays more than 30% of their monthly income for housing. If we don’t see a softening of the housing market, Las Vegas may see not only an increase in homeless families, but also an exodus of those residents who can no longer afford to live here.
While the city works to create new, affordable housing for Las Vegas’ low income families, stops must be put in place to help protect tenants from landlords who are raising rents indiscriminately and placing even middle-class families in jeopardy.
The Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada (PLAN) has seen the impact of rising rents on families throughout the state and are working to find solutions. Hector Fong, Communications and Digital Strategy Co-Director of the Las Vegas division, says that PLAN has been working to give more power to tenants in Las Vegas and surrounding areas.
“Evictions are a huge thing, even prior to the pandemic, so many families were one family emergency away from being houseless,” he said. “Our state allows summary evictions, which are very skewed toward landlords. And there are no rent caps here, which is really putting people between a rock and a hard place.”
PLAN attempted to introduce a bill banning summary evictions, as well as a tenant’s rights bill, which would have restricted landlords from charging tenants hidden or excessive fees, but both were stalled in the legislature. “Even though we have a majority Democrat-run legislature and our governor is a Democrat, the bills died in committee,” Fong said.
Part of the problem has to do with Nevada being a landlord-friendly state and many of the highest donors to lawmakers are real estate agents and apartment owners. Fong notes that the legislative committee that killed the tenant’s right bill was actually led by a realtor.
“Late last year, realtors sent a newsletter out to property owners saying they can ‘raise the roof’ on rent costs. They even specified how many days notice they have to give a person before they can increase their rent,” explained Fong. “There are crazy fees to even apply to rent a place. Landlords have been trying to squeeze out all the profit they can, and people are getting evicted even after receiving housing assistance.”
In order to combat this, PLAN is working to put some of the power back into the hands of those most affected, primarily by getting their voices and stories out to the world. “We were able to gather a bunch of tenants and had meetings with the governor’s office and state treasurer, and were able to get funds from the American Rescue Plan (ARP) allocated to develop more affordable housing as well as maintaining existing affordable housing,” Fong said. “This was great, but those funds aren’t coming down the pipeline immediately.”
Fong said that PLAN has been encouraging people who have been impacted by the housing crisis to come through with their stories and to reach out to their local officials, all of which is intended to help push Nevada counties to consider rent control.
Once a city where people came to enjoy a lower cost of living and plenty of opportunities, Las Vegas is fast becoming just another big city that no one can afford to live in.
“Something has to be done,” Fong said. “Right now, some rents are higher than a mortgage payment. How can people save to buy a home when they can barely pay their rent?”