Affordable housing big issue for Nevada Legislature

CARSON CITY, Nev. — Affordable housing will be a key issue during the 80th session of the Nevada Legislature.

A handful of bills to address the lack of housing throughout the state have been submitted, including five bill draft requests from the Committee to Study Issues Regarding Affordable Housing, a committee formed to study the topic during the interim.

And the issue will have a new champion: the Nevada Housing Coalition.

The coalition was formed late last year and is headed by Bill Brewer, executive director, Nevada Rural Housing Authority.

“If there is a good piece of legislation we want to be there to support it,” said Brewer.

The coalition plans to advocate for the five bills produced by the interim study.

Those bills include one that would allow local municipalities to subsidize affordable housing projects without having to pay it back from the general fund, as is required now.

“If they want to use redevelopment money they could do that,” said Brewer. “It would make them more willing to pony up.”

Another bill was touted by Gov. Steve Sisolak in his state of the state speech: a $10 million a year housing tax credit that mirrors a successful federal program, said Brewer.

“At $10 million a year it could generate $90-100 million in affordable housing,” he said. “It has worked well on a national level.”

Another bill would expand the State Medicaid Plan Option, which would allow Nevada to offer a variety of services “that would facilitate housing as health care,” according to the BDR text.

Another bill would standardize legal definitions and create three tiers of affordable housing — one tier based on residents having 60 percent of area median income (AMI), a second tier based on 60-80 percent of AMI, and a third based on 80-120 percent of AMI that would be so-called workforce housing.

“It’s not a huge difference, but if we changed that we’d all be having the same conversation,” said Brewer.

The last bill would link two databases tracking affordable housing and make them available via the Nevada Housing Division.

“One-stop shopping for data would be smart,” said Brewer.

There are at least two other bills addressing affordable housing, but the coalition may not take a position because it doesn’t have the resources, not because it’s for or against the bills.

One bill proposing various tax changes would authorize county commissioners to impose additional sales tax that could be used for myriad purposes, including affordable housing.

The Nevada Housing Coalition was launched by Wells Fargo and Charles Schwab Bank, which under the Community Reinvestment Act must work to meet the needs of low- and moderate-income borrowers.

The coalition includes members representing the banks; Nevada Hand, a nonprofit affordable housing developer in Las Vegas; the City of Las Vegas; Henderson; and the Nevada Housing Division. Brewer, the coalition president, represents rural Nevada and will be the group’s legislative liaison.

“One of the beauties of the coalition is I’ll have 40 to 70 phone numbers I can call and ask them to show up,” he said.

When the Legislature is out of session, the coalition has other goals.

“The purpose is to bring all the interested parties together. The first task is education,” said Brewer. “And then advocacy at the state level.”

Lake Tahoe bus route to Carson City-Minden/Gardnerville funded for another year

A bus route that connects Carson City to Lake Tahoe via Carson Valley received funding needed for another year, but its future remains uncertain.

The Tahoe Transportation District (TTD) is getting about $1.6 million in funding from the Nevada Department of Transportation (NDOT) for its 19x bus route, which runs between Carson City and Minden/Gardnerville, where riders can catch a 20x route bus that goes to South Lake Tahoe.

In late 2016, TTD's 21x route, which was a direct connection between Carson City and the lake, ceased to operate after funding for it dried up. The money funding it is for rural bus routes and the Lake Tahoe district was re-designated as a metropolitan planning organization. The same money funds the 19x route, but that route primarily serves Douglas County, a rural area, so it's still eligible.

George Fink, transit system program manager, TTD, told the Carson Area Metropolitan Planning Organization on Wednesday TTD is looking to readjust its system.

"We have run into a declining ability to retain licensed operators and mechanics. And there is a lack of capital funding to replace our fleet. Fifty percent of our fleet is beyond its useful life," said Fink.

But, he said public comment indicated riders want to maintain the 19x route. That route has annual ridership of about 8,000 while the 20x ridership is 27,000. The now defunct 21x route that took passengers from Carson City directly to the lake had annual ridership of 35,000, he said.

Sondra Rosenberg, the NDOT representative on CAMPO, encouraged TTD and other districts to start looking for alternative funding sources.

NDOT receives a set amount from the federal government annually and over the years was able to build up a reserve when rural areas didn't apply for all the funds. Those reserves are about exhausted so the amount of available money will drop. The grants are competitive and riders in some rural areas rely on bus routes for healthcare and other essential services, so they'll likely get priority.

Supervisor Lori Bagwell, who sits on the CAMPO and Regional Transportation Commission, asked if the casinos had been approached to help. Many of the riders live in Carson City or Carson Valley and work at a business in Lake Tahoe.

"It's been clear there is no interest in direct support. They do buy passes for their employees," said Fink. "It was not for lack of asking."