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An affordable housing crisis isn’t coming; it’s here

Everyone deserves the dignity that comes with having a place to call home — a safe harbor that shelters and nourishes. But, unfortunately, a growing number of Nevadans are being priced out of the housing market, and this is true for both renters and homeowners. With interest rates on the rise, many simply cannot make mortgage payments pencil, nor do they have the required savings for a down payment. And with housing shortages, renters are facing escalating payments that are out of reach and unsustainable.

Affordable housing is a necessity. It is not a handout. For years, the middle class has been financially pinched, and the rising cost to rent or purchase housing has worsened that situation.

Every age group — from millennials to seniors — are struggling to find affordable housing.

Locally and nationally, an affordable housing crisis isn’t coming — it’s here.

In Southern Nevada, there is a desperate shortfall of affordable housing. With the majority of its population in the Las Vegas Valley, Nevada has an estimated shortage of almost 80,000 affordable rentals for extremely low-income tenants, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. And, with a growing senior population in Las Vegas, it is estimated that 85,000 additional affordable housing units will be needed in the next 10 years to meet their needs.

Half of all Nevada renters are paying more than 30 percent of their income on rent, while nearly a quarter of Nevada renters are paying more than 50 percent. According to the federal government, affordable housing should not exceed 30 percent of income.

According to the Brookings Mountain West and the Lincy Institute at UNLV, in Southern Nevada “seven of the 10 most common occupations do not earn the income needed to afford rent for a studio apartment.”

Nevada is a microcosm of the nation. Research by the Harvard University Joint Center for Housing Studies estimates the number of households spending 50 percent or more of their income on rent will reach 13.1 million by 2025, predicting that the growing affordability crisis will especially impact seniors, Hispanics and single-person households.

As one of Nevada’s largest and leading developers of affordable and market-rate rental housing, we at Ovation are acting on our belief that all residents, regardless of socio-economic status, deserve a quality home that helps to strengthen individual lives, families and community.

That’s why Ovation has committed a portion of its resources and experience developing high-end rental communities to design and build affordable housing to the same standard of quality as market-rate multifamily housing projects. Our affordable communities, through a partnership with a nonprofit that specializes in services, provide residents with wraparound services and recreational amenities that create a rich social infrastructure and high quality of life. This includes access to transportation assistance to medical appointments and shopping, health and wellness programs, food assistance as well as social outings and events.

To date, approximately 2,500 seniors are living in 1,900 units at 13 Ovation developed and managed affordable senior apartment communities in Southern Nevada. And we are already working on plans for additional affordable housing communities. Proof of the need and the demand for quality affordable senior housing is the fact that our communities are fully occupied soon after they open, and our wait lists continue to grow every day.

And for those who say developing affordable housing doesn’t make business sense, we say it can and does pencil financially for lenders, investors and builders, but most importantly for the residents of these communities. We work hard to streamline the affordable housing development process and tap into tax-incentive programs and government funding sources to bring the total development cost in at substantially less than the average cost incurred by other builders of affordable multihousing communities. We know developing affordable housing can be done.

Why does it matter?

For older adults, strengthening the ties between housing and age-related services supports their continued health and well-being. In particular, better access to assistance with personal care, transportation and health care greatly impacts seniors’ ability to live on their own safely and comfortably. The availability of these services especially benefits middle- and lower-income seniors who are unable to afford assisted living or prefer to age-in-place.

Overall, affordable housing for those who need it at varying stages of life can have a profound effect on residents and communities. It can improve quality of life for residents by leading to better health, financial stability and security. For communities, affordable housing has a direct impact on economic vitality as affordable housing attracts and retains employees, who in turn, have increased spending power.

Perhaps, one of the most impactful arguments for affordable housing is its effect on children. The ability of parents to spend more on nutritional food, health care and school supplies for their children is only the tip of the iceberg. Working families who have available income to support their children’s extracurricular activities, such as sports or music lessons, are giving the next generation a foot up for greater success in school, higher employment prospects and less reliance on public programs later in life, according to the MacArthur Foundation.

While Nevada has made strides in addressing affordable housing through the state’s $500 million Home Means Nevada initiative to fund multifamily development and rehabilitation and the county’s $120 million Community Housing Funds, they are not enough.

Ultimately, solving the problem of affordable housing is a moral, societal, business and, yes, a political decision. It requires a commitment to public-private partnerships between real estate developers, corporate entities, government and nonprofits that bring forward innovative long-term sustainable solutions that at their core offer our fellow citizens the opportunity to live with dignity, put down community roots and build a better future.

But as important as it is, more low-income housing will not solve the crisis alone. We need to increase the supply of housing, especially multifamily, that serves all income levels. To encourage more development, we need to ensure a streamlined entitlement process, greater support for high-density zoning and greater access to tax incentives and other government funding sources.

This is a call to make that happen. Those of us whose family and businesses are intricately tied to the Las Vegas legacy know from experience that our community can answer that call. Nevada can lead the nation in providing workable solutions to the growing need for affordable housing.

Jess Molasky, principal, Ovation Development Corp.

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