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Las Vegas renters seeking relief, but market not sunk by pandemic

Updated May 25, 2020 - 9:21 am

Until the novel coronavirus hit, Las Vegas auditor Cristina Delgado had never fallen behind on her rent.

But the family breadwinner was late paying for their townhouse this month after the pandemic left her furloughed and waiting for state unemployment benefits.

“I feel like I’m drowning,” Delgado said.

Sam O’Connell, a psychology doctoral student at UNLV, has covered her rent by teaching dance lessons. But that work nearly evaporated amid the public health crisis, and then she learned last month that her rent is climbing nearly 30 percent this summer.

She is moving out next month.

Las Vegas’ rental market heated up for years before the pandemic, marked by booming apartment construction, rising rents, tight vacancies and lucrative landlord purchases. The market hasn’t collapsed after the coronavirus outbreak shut down much of Southern Nevada’s economy virtually overnight, but tenants have sought rent relief and struggled to pay on time.

‘Most concerned about’ Las Vegas

Nevada HAND, which operates about 4,200 apartment units in Southern Nevada, has “definitely seen an increase in folks asking for rental assistance,” said Greta Seidman, spokeswoman for the affordable-housing developer.

Still, the share of tenants who have missed their payments is not higher than normal, she said. Seidman figured that they have been helped in part by companies that paid workers for a while after they closed operations amid the turmoil.

TruAmerica Multifamily, which owns and manages more than 5,500 apartment units in the Las Vegas area, was worried about the delays Southern Nevadans faced in getting state unemployment benefits and how that would affect their ability to pay rent this month, chief administrative officer Mark Enfield said.

But collections haven’t plunged. TruAmerica had received 86.4 percent of its Southern Nevada rents partway through May, compared with 89.4 percent of its rents nationwide, he said.

Enfield said that overall, Las Vegas has “far exceeded our expectations” amid severe economic fallout in the tourism-dependent region.

“That was the market we were most concerned about,” he said.

Nevada State Apartment Association executive director Susy Vasquez said lower-priced complexes, where tenants might have minimum-wage jobs and little or no savings, have struggled more than others to collect rent.

But overall, among the association’s members, “shockingly” 80 percent of tenants had paid rent this month, she said.

Las Vegas tattoo artist Nick Weaver, who lives in a TruAmerica-owned complex, said in mid-April that both he and his wife, a cosmetologist, were out of work. They had paid April rent and figured they could cover May as well.

Nearly a month later, he said, his wife was back at work, though he wasn’t. Her earnings could pay the rent, he said, but not all of their bills.

‘It’s very scary’

Gov. Steve Sisolak ordered casinos and other Nevada businesses closed in March to help contain the virus’ spread. He also ordered a temporary freeze on eviction and foreclosure proceedings that month, aiming to ensure that Nevadans weren’t locked out of their homes amid the chaos.

Nevada’s unemployment rate hit 28.2 percent last month, up from just 3.6 percent in February, state data shows.

Sisolak’s order did not give tenants and homeowners a green light to live for free, nor did it dictate how missed checks would be repaid if people fell behind on their housing payments because of the turmoil.

Taxpayer funds and other financial support have helped prop up the rental market. United Way of Southern Nevada, for instance, has raised nearly $1.9 million, including from the Nevada attorney general’s office, for an emergency assistance fund. The nonprofit group says it has doled out more than $1.4 million for rent and mortgage help.

Susan Marsian-Bolduc, who rents a house in Las Vegas, said she was hired as a Pink Jeep tour guide in early January and furloughed just a few months later as the valley shut down.

She paid April rent with federal stimulus funds, and her employer is paying this month’s rent.

Delgado, the furloughed auditor, said she lives with her husband, their two children and her mother-in-law. Until the pandemic hit, she was the only one working.

She paid April rent with savings and federal stimulus funds. She still hadn’t paid May rent as of Thursday.

Delgado described a “maddening” experience trying for weeks to obtain unemployment benefits from the state’s heavily backlogged system, spending three hours a day five days a week on the phone waiting to speak with someone.

She doesn’t know whether her family will face eviction at some point or even homelessness.

“It’s very overwhelming,” she said. “It’s very scary.”

Contact Eli Segall at esegall@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0342. Follow @eli_segall on Twitter.

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