Las Vegas Sun

September 22, 2021

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GUEST COLUMN:

Nevada’s communities of color are most at risk during pandemic

Gov. Steve Sisolak extended by 45 days the statewide residential eviction moratorium. A day later, President Donald Trump and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an eviction moratorium through the end of the year.

Locally, this was the right call by Sisolak, given the backlog in processing unemployment claims and the delays in implementing new programs that are designed to support renters and landlords — namely the court mediation program (Senate Bill 1) and the rental assistance program, which has been paused in Clark County until administrators can process the overwhelming demand.

The eviction moratorium will provide temporary relief to thousands of families in Nevada. As the Guinn Center reported this summer, as many as 120,000 to 142,000 households in Nevada face risk of eviction. However, while the eviction moratorium provides temporary relief, it is not likely to eliminate the eventual wave of evictions.

There are two reasons for this. First, state and county decision makers have allocated roughly $70 million to rental assistance programs. That amount is lower than our preliminary estimate of $260 million and significantly lower than the $845 million in need estimated by the National Low Income Housing Coalition. Second, the eviction crisis is a function of economic conditions and employment patterns. And for these reasons, communities of color in Nevada are more vulnerable to the economic impacts of COVID-19, housing instability and the risk of eviction.

Our report notes that communities of color have in Nevada been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus pandemic. For example, Latinos account for a greater share of confirmed cases; African Americans have the highest hospitalization rate in Clark County; and mortality rates are high among Asians and African Americans relative to their share of the population.

The pandemic resulted in a wave of business closures starting March 18. Following the closures, many Nevadans have experienced reduced hours, furloughs, and even job elimination. As of July, one third of all unemployment claims in Nevada were in the accommodation and food services sector, and about 13% were in administrative, support, and waste management services and retail sectors combined. African Americans, Latinos and Asians are overrepresented in these sectors that have been most affected by the pandemic in Nevada.

Specifically, people of color account for almost two-thirds of all employment in the accommodation and food services sector, more than half of employment in administrative, support and waste management services, and exactly half in retail. In the accommodation and food services sector, Latinos account for 36% of employment (but represent only 30% of the population); Asians account for 16% (but account for only 10% of the population). In administrative, support and waste management services, African Americans account for 19% of employment but only 9% of the population. Average wages in these three sectors are at least $20,000 lower than the average wage across all sectors in Nevada.

Job losses coupled with low wages expose the lack of resiliency among communities of color during economic crises. People of color are particularly vulnerable to cash flow disruptions because most are renters. Roughly 44% of Nevada households are renters. More than two-thirds of African Americans and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders rent. About half of American Indians, Latinos, and multiracial people rent.

Additionally, many renters of color are disproportionately cost-burdened. There is a shortage of rental homes affordable and available to households whose incomes are at or below the poverty guideline or 30% of the area median income. Consequently, many of these renter households spend more than half of their income on housing. In Nevada, more than 30% of American Indian and African American households, and roughly one quarter of Latino households, pay more than 50% of their income on rent.

The delays in processing unemployment claims have further constrained household budgets. The eviction moratorium will provide some relief, but only temporarily.

Longer-term solutions are needed to support workers in the sectors most affected. Among these are the development of more affordable housing units, as well as expanded access to accelerated educational and training programs that can quickly retrain displaced workers and move them into new career paths. Many of these programs should sit at Nevada’s four community colleges, which are the “first responders” in efforts to reboot our economy. Examples include the College of Southern Nevada’s new Rapid Response Centers that offer more than 20 accelerated programs and Truckee Meadows Community College’s new accelerated information technology “badges” program. Investments in these sorts of solutions in the short term can help mitigate the magnitude of evictions Nevada will face when the moratorium expires.

Nancy Brune is the executive director of the Guinn Center, and the lead author of the report, “The Impact of COVID-19 on Communities of Color in Nevada.”