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New program aims to study explosion of evictions, call for reform

Updated October 13, 2023 - 7:20 pm

A single father unable to work because no one else could watch his young daughter and a person who needs crutches to recover from a car crash asked for a little more time to catch up on rent.

Both were ordered evicted.

Their cases were among the more than three-dozen eviction cases local and state lawmakers observed in under two hours Tuesday morning at Las Vegas Justice Court.

The vast majority ended in evictions, and each proceeding lasted an average of one minute, 15 seconds, Clark County Commissioner William McCurdy II noted.

“It was an experience that I hope Nevadans don’t continue to experience,” he said about the explosion of evictions in recent months.

The court visit — followed by an afternoon session at North Las Vegas Justice Court — was part of a court monitoring program launched Tuesday by the Nevada Housing Justice Alliance, a collective of advocacy groups.

The goal is to contextualize evictions, hold hearing masters and judges accountable, and collect data “so we know how backwards, contradictory and convoluted the summary eviction process is,” said Ben Iness, the coalition’s coordinator.

A summer analysis by Princeton University-based “Eviction Lab” stated that nearly 140,000 eviction proceedings have begun in Clark County since the onset of the pandemic, prompting a 115 increase from a pre-pandemic average during the same time period.

More than 30,000 Nevadans have been evicted since Gov. Joe Lombardo vetoed a bill in June that would’ve extended a law that delayed evictions for renters awaiting responses from rental assistance programs up to 60 days, according to the Nevada Housing Justice Alliance.

While such programs continue to be funded at the local and state level, delays in the application processes have exacerbated the eviction crisis, advocates say.

McCurdy told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that the delays are “a symptom of the system being overburdened.”

He said the county already has provided $300 million in rental and utility bill assistance.

The county is considering a proposal of a $6 million infusion into nonprofits capable of running their own rental-assistance programs, which often can provide the dollars faster than government, McCurdy said.

McCurdy expects those funds also would quickly run out and that governments need to think of longer-term solutions when it comes to the economy as a whole.

Nevada Assembly members Max Carter, Erica Mosca and Shondra Summers-Armstrong observed eviction hearings Tuesday.

So did Las Vegas Councilwoman Nancy Brune, who told the Review-Journal that she considered it a learning opportunity.

Some of her ward constituents have written to her office about rent increases. Brune said she would relate what she learned and study the city’s rental assistance program and what changes could be made.

“I think people don’t realize the law’s changed,” she said of the ending of the eviction grace period.

North Las Vegas Justice of the Peace Belinda Harris acknowledged the group of observers in her courtroom Tuesday afternoon and took questions from the bench after her docket was completed.

Community advocates have praised the way she handles her cases, how she uses discretionary judgment to allow people a few more days to clear out of a property, and to vacate evictions from records as long as tenants are out on time.

She said she strives for courtroom transparency, openly broadcasting most of her hearings online.

“The court is an open and public place,” Harris said.

Contact Ricardo Torres-Cortez at rtorres@reviewjournal.com. Follow @rickytwrites on X.

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