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NEVADA VIEWS: Public lands bill key to Nevada’s prosperity

Responsible residential development is key to allowing Southern Nevada to keep up with a rising demand for housing. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto has introduced a comprehensive long-term, balanced federal lands bill, which will be instrumental in addressing what Southern Nevada will look like in the next 30 years. Proposals such as this answer the need to ensure purchasing a home and access to recreational activities are attainable for as many Nevadans as possible.

In leading the Southern Nevada Home Builders Association, I’ve seen an ever-changing landscape in this region. And in the past few years, the homebuilding industry has faced increasingly insufficient access to developable land, which has driven up costs and eliminated access to the new home market for many working families. The passage of this bill would send a clear message to the market as an additional source to help alleviate land costs and provide access to new builds for those unable to currently qualify.

It is undeniable that supply is a key element to housing attainability, and Southern Nevada is on an unsustainable trajectory to meet the anticipated population growth over the next three decades. In 2019, the UNLV Center for Business and Economic Research projected Clark County’s population will grow to 2.85 million people by 2035 and 3.09 million people by 2060. Only new construction can fulfill that need — a task that is currently impossible if Congress does not pass the federal lands bill.

Long-term economic success for Clark County demands additional land to be available to support an increase in population and accommodate the types of economic diversification desired by state and local government.

It is crucial that residential development continue, for both anticipated population growth and to keep housing attainable for our community. Stabilizing the cost of building and buying homes will be beneficial to all parties, from homebuyers to homebuilders and from future homeowners to the wider Southern Nevada community.

Opposition to the current draft of that bill fails to mention that this comprehensive proposal does not release additional acres just to new development. It also protects hundreds of thousands of acres. More than 2.2 million additional acres are set aside for conservation and parks activities, and the fees associated with the less than 40,000 additional acres for development will continue to fund Lake Tahoe preservation and conservation programs across Southern Nevada that mitigate needs driven by existing residents and new residents.

A plan for land management for the next two decades must include a way to sustain these critical revenue streams for conservation, education, clean water and recreation.

Through land sales in the Las Vegas Valley, requested by local governments and conducted by the federal government, developers have contributed more than $4.1 billion for schools and conservation under the Southern Nevada Public Lands Management Act. Opponents of this balanced proposal must be asked: How would our region replace the hundreds of millions for parks, trails, conservation, water infrastructure and education should land sales stop when developable land is exhausted? A study from Applied Analysis indicates that as existing land made available for new development dwindles, new homeownership has the potential to become increasingly unreachable for Nevadans, while thousands of Nevada families that depend on well-paying construction jobs would be out of work.

Smarter community and infrastructure planning are important to tackle our affordability challenges and meet our state climate goals. But radical proposals to stop future land sales in Southern Nevada by not supporting a balanced lands bill would halt growth in property taxes that fund vital community services for our neediest citizens, make homeownership unreachable and permanently damage our ability to invest in schools, conservation and water efficiency.

It has been nearly 25 years since the passage of the last comprehensive lands bill for Southern Nevada. We must come together as a community to support common-sense solutions that protect sensitive lands and species, make land available for development, fund our schools and open new opportunities for Nevadans to work in high-paying jobs and grow their families in homes they own.

Nat Hodgson is CEO of the Southern Nevada Home Builders Association.

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