Las Vegas Sun

September 19, 2019

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Housing authority director: Past leadership exacerbated affordable housing woes in Las Vegas

Carnival AirShip Over Vegas

Steve Marcus

A residential neighborhood is shown in the northwest Las Vegas Valley Thursday, Feb. 7, 2018.

The director of the Southern Nevada Regional Housing Authority is conducting a programmatic audit of the agency’s activities and services, and, so far, he said it doesn’t bode well for the housing authority’s past leadership.

Director Chad Williams, who has been on the job since June, says the agency has not provided any of the approximately 12,000 subsidized housing vouchers it receives from the federal government to Southern Nevada residents in the last 10 years. Instead, the vouchers have been given exclusively to people moving into the valley who had already been granted vouchers by other housing authorities.

“We’re not pulling people off our own waiting list who are more than likely locals,” Williams said. “I think that’s a travesty.”

Williams alluded to some of the findings of the audit, including his concerns about past practices for voucher allocations, in a written report released at the Board of Commissioners meeting on Thursday. The report was not discussed during the meeting, but Williams told the Las Vegas Sun that he would provide more details once the audit is completed, which could be as early as next week.

But he was clear about one thing: The housing authority has not done its part to address the affordable housing deficit and homelessness concerns in the Las Vegas Valley. Williams hopes to bring stability to the organization who had been without a permanent director for more than two years.

“The housing authority, instead of being a good partner to address the affordable crisis over the past 10 years, has been a contributor to the affordable housing crisis by not pulling local natives off the waitlist,” he said.

Approximately 47,000 locals are on the authority’s waitlist to receive affordable housing, public housing or housing vouchers. Of those individuals, about 1,500 residents are waiting exclusively for housing vouchers, which help low-income families and the elderly secure safe, private housing at an affordable rate.

While some locals have been taken off the waitlist for public and affordable housing, it takes an average of 10 years for residents to get into these types of housing units from the time they apply, Williams said. This is due to the low supply of affordable and public housing compared to demand in the valley, and it reflects the significance of tools such as vouchers.

In addition to reversing the past policy of not administering vouchers to locals, Williams announced other changes and initiatives that he has planned for the authority. For example, for the first time in years, the authority will begin to administer a more appropriate number of project-based vouchers, he said.

Like housing choice vouchers, project-based vouchers are funded by the federal government and subsidize housing for eligible residents so that they pay no more than 30 percent of their income on rent. But project-based vouchers are assigned to particular units within private housing developments, and individuals or families may apply to live in one of those units for a designated amount of time.

These types of vouchers reduce the incidence of discrimination by landlords against low-income tenants, and sometimes give tenants the opportunity to live in a more desirable neighborhood, rather than only in units that accept housing choice vouchers, Williams explained.

“Housing choice vouchers move with the participant; however, landlords often discriminate against tenants after a period of time because they can go to the open market for higher rents,” Williams wrote in an email.

Although housing authorities nationwide are authorized to allocate up to 20 percent of their housing vouchers to project-based vouchers, the housing authority has only used about 2 percent of its vouchers for this purpose, Williams said. This is not for want of interest from private developers and community leaders.

“Developers have been interested in it, elected officials ... have all suggested that. We just never had policy leadership on the board or administrator leadership from the executive director to push that through,” he said.