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EDITORIAL: Democrats need new tune on affordable housing

When it comes to affordable housing, Democrats who run the show in Carson City increasingly offer little more than failed policies such as expanding the regulatory state or imposing rent control. Either approach would undermine efforts to increase housing options for Nevada residents.

Progressives lashed out at Gov. Joe Lombardo last summer after he vetoed a handful of housing bills that would have made it more difficult for landlords to evict nonpaying tenants. In fact, the legislation — while benefiting a select few — would have in the long run only further discouraged investors and property owners from entering the housing market.

Likewise for rent control, a concept that Swedish economist Assar Lindbeck wryly noted is the “most efficient technique presently known to destroy a city — except for bombing.” To cite just one example: After St. Paul, Minnesota, voters approved a rent control law in 2022, investment in the local housing market cratered, leading local officials just five months later to soften the law’s more egregious restrictions.

If those complaining about the Republican governor’s vetoes truly wanted to be helpful, they would advocate for policies that actually encouraged the creation of more housing. Of particular interest might be a recent essay on Reason.com identifying a dozen “increasingly off-the-wall housing reforms.” Not all would be workable in Nevada, but they at least attempt to move toward “making our cities more affordable, functional and free.”

Foremost among the suggestions is removing the zoning and regulatory barriers that make it more costly and difficult for developers to meet housing demand. This could include relaxing density requirements in certain areas or providing an avenue for builders to bypass local red tape in neighborhoods where demand and prices are high. It could also entail poring through building codes to eliminate provisions that unnecessarily drive up costs under the guise of protecting public health and safety.

Another avenue that would prove advantageous to Nevada, and particularly the Las Vegas area: Pressure Congress to sell more federal property for private use. Washington currently manages nearly 80 percent of the land within Nevada’s borders, including hundreds of thousands of acres near or within the state’s largest metropolitan area. Plenty of that property would not be considered environmentally sensitive and could be released for development that would help meet local housing demand.

Nevada Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto has previously proposed a public lands bill that would auction off or release more federal land in Southern Nevada, but the proposal became bogged down in special-interest politics and congressional inertia. It’s worth resurrecting as we enter the new year.

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