LAS VEGAS – Those on the front lines of a pandemic housing crisis that could leave a quarter of a million southern Nevadans without homes next month say the solution is federal funding and an extension of the state’s soon-expiring eviction moratorium.
“The volume of calls coming in are so overwhelming that people have to keep trying to call back to get through,” said Stacey Lockhart, executive director at HopeLink of Southern Nevada, one of 14 agencies that received funding in Clark County to help residents with rent. “We’re receiving a thousand emails and phone calls a day.”
Lockhart and her staff are one of the last stops for residents in the middle of an immense eviction quandary that could soon grip Southern Nevada, where a lack of affordable housing and growing homeless population existed long before the pandemic.
The Guinn Center, a Las Vegas-based non-partisan research group, and the COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project in Denver have estimated 249,700 people in Clark County, or more than 10% of its population, are at risk of eviction starting in September.
The Las Vegas area could be hit harder as fewer tourists are coming to Southern Nevada, a place masses of travelers frequented for gambling, partying and networking in close quarters.
In Clark County, the home of the Las Vegas Strip, 47% of households are occupied by renters, according to the the Guinn Center. It is estimated that 38% of them are unemployed.
But agencies like HopeLink will soon run out of dollars to help residents fearing eviction — and experts contend the pot of money isn’t nearly big enough to address the magnitude of this crisis.
‘We’re cutting checks every single day’
Nevada received $50 million in federal Coronavirus Relief Funds to launch a rental relief fund for residential and commercial properties. Of the $50 million, $30 million was earmarked to help with residential rental assistance.
Aiming to help 4,000 families in Southern Nevada, HopeLink requested $10.5 million from Clark County and received $2.1 million.
From Aug. 1 to Aug. 20, the agency processed more than $500,000 in assistance to households for rent and utilities alone. There is another $200,000 in requests in progress between this week and last week.
HopeLink has through December to use the funding, but Lockhart expects the money to run out long before then.
Every morning, HopeLink staffers build an appointment list that tops out at 50 appointments – the maximum it can book in a day. In a scenario very much similar to what’s happening inside Nevada’s jammed unemployment system, anyone who can’t get an appointment must call back the next day.
“In the beginning when we starting ramping up, it was every day, all day long, absolutely nonstop,” Lockhart said. “We’re cutting checks check every single day.”
How much money does Nevada need for rental assistance?
It depends who you ask, but the estimated need in Nevada far surpasses the $30 million allocated for rental assistance.
The Guinn Center estimates the range of need from March-December 2020 is about $260 million. But a report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition suggests the state needs more than $800 million.
“The magnitude of any number I look at is tremendous,” said Nevada Housing Coalition Executive Director Christine Hess.
‘We’re headed for serious trouble’
Looming in the background of a funding shortfall is the Aug. 31 expiration date on Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak’s eviction and foreclosure moratorium.
Sisolak ordered a halt to eviction proceedings starting March 30 because the coronavirus shuttered businesses and put many Nevadans out of work.
In June, the state announced the moratorium would be gradually lifted over the next several months. Sisolak said late fees, evictions and lockouts for non-payment of rent could begin again on July 1 for commercial properties and as soon as Aug. 1 for some residential properties.
Unless the governor extends his order, residential renters who have not been able to pay since the pandemic began have until Sept. 1 or risk eviction for nonpayment. That’s also when mortgage foreclosures will be allowed to resume.
Sisolak’s office was not immediately available for comment on whether the governor would extend the moratorium.
“It seems clear we’re headed for serious trouble,” said Prof. Nicholas Barr in UNLV’s Social Work department. “A bunch of newly unhoused people in a resource-scarce environment where it’s hard to provide services because of the pandemic is a recipe for a real disaster.”
There is no plausible alternative to extending this moratorium, Barr said.
Meanwhile, those on the front lines trying to help Nevadans running out of options are running out of places to send them.
No rooms at the inn
On top of a lack of funding, there’s a lack of vacancies and shelter space for people who do end up on the street.
Agencies like HopeLink and Clark County have agreements in place with certain properties – like Siegel Suites – to provide short-term vouchers for Nevadans in between homes.
The temporary stays generally last one to two weeks, but COVID-19 has extended that time frame, making it difficult to find openings.
“We’ve been putting them in there for 30 days minimum because people have also been having to quarantine,” Lockhart said. “There’s just not vacancies open, because no one is moving anywhere. Everyone’s staying in place.”
HopeLink has to turn many away.
“The hardest thing to do when somebody calls you for help,” Lockhart said. “is having to tell them there isn’t a solution right now.”
Contributing: The Associated Press.
Ed Komenda writes about Las Vegas for the Reno Gazette Journal and USA Today Network. Do you care about democracy? Then support local journalism by subscribing to the Reno Gazette Journal right here.