Tenant turmoil: Evictions pile up as Nevada’s stark affordable housing landscape worsens

COVID-19 was merely a chapter in Nevada’s housing crisis woes. According to several sources, the housing landscape in Nevada is seeing an increase in evictions.

Records from North Las Vegas Justice Court show that since the pandemic, eviction filings increased from 3,931 cases in fiscal year 2019 to 5,328 in fiscal year 2022—or by about 35%. And this year alone, North Las Vegas Justice Court has seen 7,428 eviction filings as of June. (Not all filings result in eviction.)

On August 8, U.S. Rep. Steven Horsford (D-NV)–who sits on the House Financial Services Committee and Subcommittee on Housing and Insurance–sat in the court of North Las Vegas Judge Belinda Harris to witness eviction proceedings.

“The housing affordability crisis, which faced us before the pandemic—we experienced it during the pandemic. And now, with rent prices increasing as they have over the last couple of years, it’s again only gotten worse for a lot of constituents,” Horsford tells the Weekly.

Before the pandemic, Las Vegas and Nevada already had the greatest shortage of affordable housing in the nation. And according to a recent report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition, Nevada has just 17 affordable units available for every 100 extremely low-income households that need them. (Oregon and Florida are next with 23 units available for every 100 households in need.) Las Vegas tops the list of metropolitan areas with the greatest shortages of affordable housing, with 14 units available for every 100 extremely low-income households in need.

On top of that, compared to other states, Nevada has the highest percentage of extremely low-income renters that are severely cost burdened, meaning the renter pays more than 50% of income on rent and housing expenses. The March report indicated 86% of extremely low-income families (earning 30% or less of area median income) in Nevada land in this severely cost-burdened category, making them vulnerable to eviction.

And with Princeton’s Eviction Lab reporting a 166% increase in eviction filings compared to years before the pandemic, Las Vegas’ affordable housing crisis could spiral into a deeper homelessness crisis.

“Economic precarity resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic merely highlighted what has long been known: the lowest-income families are just one missed paycheck or unexpected expense away from potential eviction or homelessness,” the National Low Income Housing Coalition report reads.

Horsford says the recent surge in eviction hearings could have been ameliorated if Gov. Joe Lombardo had not vetoed bills in the legislature related to evictions. One of them, Senate Bill 335, would have extended a pandemic-era protection safeguarding tenants from eviction if they had filed an application for rental assistance.

“Tenants … unfortunately are running out of options to stay housed. Landlords, some of whom are trying to do the right thing … also can’t afford to keep people in their units without getting paid. And the system isn’t working,” Horsford says. “It’s exacerbated, in my view, based on the decision to veto several bills that were proposed in the last legislature; on top of the ending of the eviction moratorium, which I understand was in place during the pandemic.”

After Nevada’s eviction moratorium ended in May 2021, advocates and lawmakers pushed to extend pandemic protections, successfully passing Assembly Bill 486 in 2021, preventing eviction proceedings if a tenant had a pending application for rental assistance. In 2022, Senate Bill 335 sought to extend the June 5 expiration date of AB 486. It passed both Legislative houses before Lombardo vetoed it in June.

Data from Las Vegas Justice Court, which serves Las Vegas township, shows that eviction hearings increased from 645 in July 2022 to 1,600 in July 2023. Hearings have jumped from 8,645 in 2022 to 12,037 cases already in 2023.

Lombardo’s office did not respond to a request for comment on evictions or housing affordability in Nevada. When he vetoed SB335, the governor’s veto message said the legislation would burden the “residential renting market” and saddle landlords with a less convenient eviction process.

“SB335 would create onerous burdens in Nevada’s residential renting market by requiring even more hurdles for a landlord to evict a noncompliant tenant by establishing a judicial diversion program for such tenants,” reads the statement from Lombardo. “Not only would this make the eviction process more time consuming, it would also make it more costly—potentially worsening availability and accessibility to residential properties for those looking to rent.”

Help on the way?

In response to the increase in eviction cases, North Las Vegas Justice Court has invited Nevada Legal Services to set up an outreach table just outside of court chambers, where qualifying low-income tenants can get legal advice and free assistance.

John Brogden, senior attorney with Nevada Legal Services’ tenants’ rights center, and several other attorneys were stationed in the lobby of North Las Vegas Justice Court on August 9. They’re providing the outreach on Wednesday mornings.

Brogden says there are several causes for which a landlord can evict, and lately, nonpayment of rent seems to be the most common among his clients.

In 2021 and 2022, the law AB486 held that a court could not proceed with eviction for nonpayment of rent if the tenant had an application pending for rental assistance. As of the end of 2022, Clark County’s rental assistance program, the Cares Housing Assistance Program (or CHAP), had allocated more than $375 million and helped 70,000 households with rental assistance. But without an extension of that law, landlords are no longer required to accept rental assistance from CHAP, which could take weeks or even months to process.

“I have seen—especially with people who are awaiting CHAP payments—landlords’ attorneys saying that those landlords are not willing to wait around on CHAP anymore. … I think that overall, they just got really disillusioned with accepting CHAP funds, which is why they’re not inclined to do so now,” Brogden says.

With landlords unwilling to wait for rental assistance and many tenants unable to meet the rising cost of rent, the housing affordability crisis has again become more pronounced.

In June, Clark County announced $70 million for affordable and supportive housing initiatives. In 2022, the county allocated $120 million to build or rehabilitate 3,000 housing units. “We know these developments do not come along quickly, but we are focused on permanent solutions for our region and these investments help us to achieve this goal,” Commission Chairman Jim Gibson said in a partial statement.

In Washington, Horsford has sponsored legislation, including the Housing Crisis Response Act of 2023 reintroduced by Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) in June. If passed, the legislation would provide more than $150 billion for rental assistance programs along with supportive and affordable housing.

“These funds would create nearly 1.4 million affordable and accessible homes, help 294,000 households afford their rent, and address the racial wealth gap through the first-ever national investment in homeownership for first-time, first-generation homebuyers,” reads a fact sheet from the House Financial Services Committee.

Horsford has also sponsored the Housing Oversight and Mitigating Exploitation (or HOME) Act, which seeks to crack down on out-of-state corporate investors. The Congressman says those types of landlords have posed a growing problem in his district, which includes North Las Vegas, some of Las Vegas and central Nevada.

“Nearly a third of the properties in parts of my district are now owned by these out-of-state speculators, many of whom are driving up the costs, evicting at higher rates [and] not managing the properties, which lowers the values for everybody else and destabilizes the market,” he says. “My bill would empower HUD [the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development] to go after those market manipulators, fine them and put the money into a housing trust fund to create more housing affordability.”

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Mike McNamara

Mike McNamara

A Las Vegas Realtor since 2008. Mike has a wide range of knowledge around all things Las Vegas.

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