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EDITORIAL: The federal government’s false land generosity

Washington bureaucrats recently announced that Southern Nevada governments will be able to buy federal land at reduced prices. In some cases, it might be as low as $100 an acre. Buyers must use the property for the development of affordable housing.

“This is far below the rate for comparable land sales, which at one point reached a high of more than $2 million per acre,” the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development said.

In one sense, this is great news. Nevada’s growth remains strong. The state is attracting people from across the country, especially California.

But housing costs remain elevated. Home prices have come down from pandemic highs, but the median housing price remains well more than $400,000. The market has responded somewhat, as apartments are springing up throughout the valley. Around 12,500 multifamily units are under construction. More is needed, however, especially for those with lower incomes. Despite infrastructure concerns, releasing more land makes sense.

One of the major causes of high housing prices is the limited supply of developable land. More land from the federal government should help release real estate that can be used to better align demand with supply. And a greater supply of housing is a key ingredient to stabilizing prices across the board.

But it’s important to remember that the dearth of available land in the Las Vegas area is an artificial constraint. The federal government controls more than 80 percent of Nevada, including much of the vacant real estate in Clark County. That’s a far higher percentage than other states. In many Eastern states, the amount is under 5 percent.

There is, in fact, no shortage of land here. The shortage stems from the fact that so much land is under Washington’s control — and only a small portion of it is environmentally sensitive property preserved and protected for public use, such as the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. Efforts over the years by the state’s congressional delegation to unlock some of that property for housing and other development have seen mixed results.

Several members of Nevada’s delegation rushed to take credit for the new land release program.

“For too long developing affordable housing on public lands in Nevada has been bogged down by an inefficient process, and I pushed for these vital improvements that will make it easier to build more homes for Nevada’s working families,” Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto said.

But the problem isn’t an inefficient process for distributing the land. It’s that the federal government “owns” so much of the vast open spaces that lie within Nevada’s borders in the first place.

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