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Headline-hunting Lombardo mistakes urban sprawl for affordable housing policy • Nevada Current

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You can’t begrudge Gov. Joe Lombardo for trying to throw some shade on Joe Biden when the president made a campaign visit to Nevada Tuesday.

Democrats do the same thing when Trump comes to Nevada.

But let’s not pretend the letter Lombardo sent to Biden – and more importantly for Lombardo’s purposes, to the Nevada media – was what Lombardo wanted you to think it was: a cogent or even relevant position on Nevada’s current affordable housing crisis. It wasn’t.

In case you missed it – unlikely given the oodles of local headlines about it – Lombardo welcomed Biden to Nevada Tuesday by sending a letter to the president, dated the same day, urging Biden “to take immediate action on the affordable housing crisis in Nevada by releasing more federal land for development.

Giving federal land on the edges of the metro area to the growth industry, and expecting that industry to do something with it that would address, as Lombardo called it, “the affordable housing crisis,” is a dubious proposition at best. 

Would the growth industry build warehouses? Definitely

Upscale housing? Most definitely. 

Big box stores and strip malls? But of course. 

Gas stations for people to fill up vehicles to drive on even more seven-lane pedestrian-hostile byways in a town with no rapid mass transit system and no commitment to ever having one? That is, to borrow a phrase Lombardo pitifully tried to brand, the Nevada way.

And affordable housing? 

That hasn’t been a hallmark of Nevada’s development and building industry since the late 20th century, if then.

But let’s say Biden were to do exactly as urged by Lombardo.

“Specifically,” Lombardo wrote, “I urge you to direct the Department of the Interior to complete a statewide Resource Management Plan (RMP) or update the 18 RMPs that govern management of most of the Silver State. RMPs determine appropriate uses of public lands and should provide a strategy for addressing the housing crisis.”

Lombardo acknowledges in his own letter that “updating these plans will take time and resources.”

Even if the “immediate action” that Lombardo asks of Biden were taken, well, immediately, it would have no impact on what Lombardo himself describes as “the affordable housing crisis” for years.

Lombardo’s letter wasn’t a serious statement on an urgent problem that makes life harder for Nevadans than it needs to be. Lombardo’s letter was an attention-grabbing stunt laced with boilerplate growth industry talking points.

That shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone.

Lombardo had a chance to address the housing crisis even earlier than immediately – last year, to be specific – and he took a pass, vetoing multiple housing bills

Some of those bills were designed to lower costs to renters. For example, Lombardo vetoed a bill to rein in junk application fees and charges. He also vetoed a bill to cap rent increases at 10% for seniors and people on disability benefits.

He also vetoed bills designed to help keep people housed.

One bill passed by lawmakers would have reformed Nevada’s nationally notorious “summary” eviction process, which is super confusing for tenants, super friendly to landlords, and allows super-quick evictions.

Lombardo also vetoed a bill to extend a 2021 law that paused eviction proceedings for 60 days if a tenant’s application for rental assistance was still pending.

Tenants’ advocates and legal aid groups warned eliminating the pause would result in a wave of evictions.

It looks like they were right. Lombardo’s veto happened to coincide with the expiration of the law pausing evictions. Court filings indicate that within a couple months of the veto, the monthly number of evictions granted by courts in Southern Nevada was 49% higher than the average over the last 18 months the pause was in effect.

Evidently not content just to veto state legislation that would have provided tenants more protections against junk fees and quickie evictions, Lombardo also denied local governments more authority to confront the crisis. He vetoed a bill that would have empowered local governments to enhance affordable housing through regulatory and zoning reforms.

Lombardo’s list of top legislative priorities last year, most of which were thankfully ignored by legislative Democrats, included but were not limited to a law by which mail-in ballots would only be sent to voters who requested them, and another bill designed to eventually give private schools a half-billion dollars of public money. 

One issue that was not on his list of priorities: affordable housing. The only position Lombardo has demonstrated on housing is that he believes Nevada should keep doing what it’s always done: Let developers do whatever they want and let everybody else navigate the ensuing and maddening unchecked sprawl the best they can.

Maybe Biden should write Lombardo a letter.

Lombardo’s letter to the president was not a serious effort to confront an urgent problem. But it garnered a lot of local headlines. And that, not addressing the housing crisis, was the point.


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