Column: Affordable housing is a catalyst for sustainable economic growth in Southern Nevada

Mon, Apr 15, 2024 (2 a.m.)

The need to increase affordable and general housing stock in Nevada is undeniable as we face a severe housing shortage and mounting affordability challenges. The term “affordable housing” may elicit a range of reactions: hope and urgency from individuals desperately seeking affordable living options to misunderstanding, or even direct resistance from residents who do not want new development in their neighborhoods, a stance often labeled as NIMBYism (“Not in My Back Yard”).

Debates about housing assistance, and the push for more inclusive communities, include a wide array of viewpoints. What we can perhaps all agree on is that the affordable housing crisis is incredibly complex and growing by the year.

Nevada HAND has been developing and maintaining high-quality affordable housing in Southern Nevada for over three decades, observing in that time how it is critical to success and stability for thousands of low-income individuals as well as an essential support for the continued growth and economic sustainability of our entire region.

Waldon Swenson

Waldon Swenson

Keystone of Progress: Affordable Housing Defined

Affordable housing is more than just low-cost living spaces; it’s essential for maintaining a balanced household budget, improved quality of life, individual and community stability, and stimulation of local economies.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development defines housing as affordable when costs do not exceed 30% of a household’s gross monthly income. For example, a household with an annual income of $50,000 would strive to limit their combined housing costs, including rent or mortgage and utilities, to a maximum of $1,250 per month. For low- and extremely low-income households in Las Vegas, average annual household income is more typically around $24,000, and housing costs must accordingly be less than $700 a month to maintain a stable budget. This strategy not only secures financial well-being but also leads to improved health, wellness and educational outcomes, and fosters a deeper connection to and participation in the local community.

Fueling economic growth

In Nevada’s dynamic environment, affordable housing stands as a pivotal axis for development and a robust, thriving economy. The ripple effect of affordable housing on job creation is profound. The construction and maintenance of affordable housing units directly employs a wide range of professionals, from architects and builders to tradespeople and service providers. This sector’s growth extends opportunities to local vendors and subcontractors, fostering an ecosystem of employment that supports families and fuels local economies. Residents of affordable housing include a diversely skilled workforce—ranging from education and medical care professionals to the hospitality and service sectors—that contributes to the state’s economic vibrancy, embodying the spirit of Nevada through their varied roles in our community.

Foundation for tomorrow’s leaders

Stable, affordable housing is more than a roof over one’s head; it’s a launchpad for academic success, nurturing future citizens, scholars and leaders. Housing location, quality, affordability and stability all affect educational performance.Multiple research studies show that children who grow up in stable housing are set on a path toward lifelong success, with better educational outcomes in the near term and better economic outcomes in the long term. Investing in affordable housing lays the foundation for the education and development of future professionals.

Empowering seniors

Affordable housing plays a critical role in supporting low-income seniors, enabling them to live with dignity and continue contributing to our local economy. With stable housing, seniors are healthier, happier and less reliant on emergency support systems, easing economic pressure on their families and the broader community. Seniors’ participation in local commerce, whether through part-time employment or as consumers, enriches the community fabric and stimulates economic activity.

Community vitality

The well-being of lower-income residents is deeply interconnected with the broader economic vitality and future growth prospects of our state. When all community members thrive, increased demand for goods and services—as well as improved future prospects for children and adults—are a catalyst for growth, generating widespread benefits. Our vibrant community, propelled by individual successes at all levels of income, becomes a magnet for new businesses, sparks innovation and elevates the quality of life across the board.

A call to action

As we celebrate continued and exciting growth in Las Vegas, affordable housing is a vital concern for individuals and entire communities. The housing shortage and affordability challenges underscore the pressing need to expand our options and design innovative, collaborative, growth-oriented solutions. When the term “affordable housing” comes up, we hope it evokes thoughts of stability, opportunity, and community and economic growth—for our neighbors and our region.

Waldon Swenson is vice president of corporate affairs at Nevada HAND, a nonprofit developer, builder and manager of affordable rental homes for seniors and working families.

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This story originally appeared in Las Vegas Weekly.

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