Las Vegas Sun

October 23, 2019

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Closing means fewer homes for poor

Plywood covering broken windows, glass shards on hot concrete - that's all that remains.

Plus the fattest fine that Las Vegas has ever slapped on an owner for keeping slum like apartments - $199,000.

The Desert Breeze's 160 apartments, one of the bigger sources of housing for poor people in the Las Vegas Valley, have been shut down after a series of owners and city and county inspectors tussled for about a year over the site's fate.

What happened to the dozens who lived there before the property was closed - or what will happen next at the site - is unclear.

But together with the same property's shuttering of 101 weekly apartments earlier this year, the result is less opportunity for the poor, a step backward in the zero-sum game that is affordable housing in Southern Nevada.

Both the Desert Breeze and the weekly apartments were on the same stretch of Bonanza Road land as the short-lived Moulin Rouge hotel, where blacks and whites partied together in 1955 in the city's first integrated casino.

Now all is quiet, echoes of promises and accusations whistling through empty alleys.

Arnold Stalk, representing part-owner Metro Development, said earlier this year he would fix the place for all the tenants, setting timelines with the city.

Then he changed tunes and said he would vacate the property and fix it up. He promised to bring Clark County social service employees to the property to find tenants housing, going so far as to say he would follow dozens of tenants to their new apartments to make sure the places were better than what was left behind.

But records show most tenants found new places on their own or were evicted, with little help from the county or Stalk.

Along the way accusations have been lobbed from all sides.

Three people have been listed as owners of the property in the past two years, and each has repeated the refrain that tenants who don't pay rent are to blame for the raw sewage oozing through bathtubs, the leaks, the exposed wiring and so on.

The tenants, in turn, have often said they weren't paying rent because of the conditions.

And the city's Neighborhood Services Department followed along in a system driven by complaints, and which only recently had its potential fines raised. The city's role is to try to force landlords to make apartments livable, because the alternative, shutting them down, may result in more people living on the streets.

Attempts at building a system with annual inspections and penalties for failing collapsed last year after Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman said requiring owners to pay into such a system and undergo regular inspections would be a burden.

So scenarios like Desert Breeze are possible, where people surviving on Social Security disability checks, working $8-an-hour jobs or receiving welfare checks come home daily to conditions that the city described as "substandard, dangerous and declared a public nuisance."

In recent weeks, up to 48 apartments were vacated. Six families were helped directly by the county into new housing. The tenants of 18 other apartments were referred to a nonprofit organization, though a county document indicates it is unknown how many of them actually found housing. Others were either ineligible for programs or unable to be reached when county workers were at the site, or classified as "service resistant," which often indicates mental illness or addiction, complicating the poverty that makes it difficult to find a place to live. Still others were evicted for not paying rent.

During this period, Stalk formed a nonprofit organization and proposed a bill to the Legislature that sought $5 million in taxpayer money to provide affordable housing at the Moulin Rouge site.

The bill was never heard by the Assembly Ways and Means Committee, however.

It's uncertain what the future holds for the property. Stalk was not available for comment Friday.

Devin Smith, manager of the neighborhood response division at the Neighborhood Services Department, said representatives of the owners told him they were going to demolish the property.

On Friday afternoon, a swing set without swings and a twisted basketball hoop and backboard were mute witnesses of families scattered to corners of the valley.

Stanton Wilkerson, Moulin Rouge administrator, came upon some visitors and shooed them off the property. He said his work was done, because he had emptied the site of tenants by the time owners had agreed on with the city. Some tenants were helped out with his staff's trucks, he said.

In the end, with or without help, they had to go, he said.

"As the bartender said, you ain't gotta go home - you just gotta get outta here."

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