Updated January 7, 2019 - 1:35 am
Natalie Ross’ family has received federal rental assistance for close to a decade, but it wasn’t until moving to Las Vegas that they enjoyed the housing choice voucher program’s fullest potential.
When Ross joined the program in 2009, she lived in a Northern California neighborhood that she described as rife with crime. She came to the Las Vegas Valley in 2017 and now rents a spacious four-bedroom home in a quiet Spring Valley suburb to raise her three sons and one daughter, ages 12, 9, 3 and 1.
“It’s a good neighborhood to raise your children,” said Ross, 30. “It’s a nice place for them to play outside. … The schools here are pretty good.”
According to a new study, the Las Vegas metropolitan area’s share of voucher recipients with children living in low-poverty neighborhoods, one-third, is greater than the share of voucher-affordable rentals located in those same neighborhoods, one-fourth. That’s possible because affordable rentals far outnumber voucher recipients.
The trend is important because living in better neighborhoods can result in better outcomes for children who grow up poor, said Alicia Mazzara, one of two Center on Budget and Policy Priorities researchers who conducted the study using data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
“The research shows (that) where you live — your neighborhood, your ZIP code — affects the chances of you moving up economically,” Mazzara said. “One thing the voucher program can do is help families to relocate to neighborhoods that set them up for success.”
The study also found that Las Vegas is the only one of the 50 largest U.S. metropolitan areas that held such a trend for low-poverty neighborhoods, where fewer than 10 percent of the residents live below the poverty line.
Housing experts offered several explanations for the trend.
Mazzara said voucher recipients may have an easier time moving from Las Vegas’s poorer inner-city neighborhoods to more affluent areas because the metropolitan area is served by only one housing authority. That agency, the Southern Nevada Regional Housing Authority, administers approximately 11,000 vouchers to local families.
Chad Williams, the authority’s executive director, said landlords embraced tenants with vouchers as a stable source of income during the Great Recession. That foot in the door helped dispel some stigmas surrounding low-income renters, and the landlords kept renting to voucher holders.
“Landlords desperate for tenants might have been willing to rent to people they may typically discriminate against,” said Kris Bergstrom, a housing attorney for the Nevada Legal Services nonprofit.
But the study found Las Vegas does not fare as well in housing voucher recipients with children in “high-opportunity” neighborhoods, a description that factors in not only poverty but also school quality, labor market engagement, access to jobs and access to transit.
About 1 in 5 Las Vegas voucher recipients with children lived in neighborhoods with few opportunities; only 1 in 25 lived in high-opportunity neighborhoods.
Mazzara said some families choose to stay in low-opportunity neighborhoods because of nearby family or a job. She added that increasing rental rates may be making it difficult for new voucher holders to find their ideal home in the 60 days before their voucher expires.
“If they can’t find a place in time, they need to act fast and maybe rent in a neighborhood that’s not their first choice,” she said.
Bergstrom said Nevada lawmakers could help recipients move to better neighborhoods by enacting laws prohibiting landlords from discriminating against prospective tenants based on their source of income.
“We don’t have that here in Nevada, so there are entire complexes here that can and do flat-out reject anyone who has (a housing choice voucher),” she said.