Housing and political will

Mike Kazmierski is very good at what he does in heading the private Economic Development Authority of Nevada, but he does it for a narrow sector of the population, not for the public, and sometimes economic development is a hardship, not a benefit to the public. He arrived in Reno from Colorado without any institutional memory that many locals have of the way this community was slammed and battered by past “benefits” like the sudden arrival of thousands of new residents to service new businesses, as, in the current case, Tesla. So, it’s not surprising that he’s insensitive to our being in another period when locals are having to pay the price of the business community’s joy. In last Sunday’s Reno Gazette Journal, his defense of the incentives to outside businesses that have visited considerable pain on low-income residents was aggravating.

For that matter, so is the performance of the Nevada Legislature under Democratic control. It may surprise renters who think that Tesla is the sole cause of what they are having to go through that their counterparts in numerous other communities are experiencing the same thing. Legislatures across the nation are looking at landlord/renter statutes to respond to the damage being done by poorly planned growth and economic development, and many of them are doing better than Nevada’s lawmakers.

As we noted two weeks ago, we support the steps the Democrats in the Nevada Legislature have taken to help renters, but, as we also said, those steps are halting and fearful. What does it take for Democrats to shake their walking-on-eggshells defensiveness? There is a housing crisis in this country, and they are not assertive enough. Oregon is considering limiting rent increases and prohibiting no-cause evictions, but not Nevada, where double digit-percentage rent increases have become common. Reuters recently reported that legislatures across the country are looking at laws to curb fees piled onto rents that victimize senior citizens and low-income people, such as fees to merely accept rent payments (!) and penalties on paper payments (checks, cash, money orders) instead of electronic payments. New Jersey seems to have enacted the strongest such law, while Nevada legislators have ignored the problem. (We recommend to readers the May 21 Reno Gazette Journal article “Reno renters’ rights: 6 things you should know as a tenant in Nevada” because it demonstrates so well how few rights Nevada renters have.)

The severity of problems renters face is serious enough that Democratic presidential candidates listening as they travel around the country have started picking up on it. Elizabeth Warren, speaking in Nevada, even mentioned a malady that has afflicted the Truckee Meadows—builders who delayed building until Tesla workers actually started arriving and, when they did, wouldn’t build badly needed simple family homes: “The private markets have shifted away from entry-level housing into building McMansions,” a Warren comment that made the New York Times, but has not penetrated the minds of Nevada policymakers.

The voters in 2016 reacted strongly against the activities of the Republican-controlled 2015 Nevada Legislature by handing control right back to the Democrats, who are still too responsive to Kazmierski’s constituency and not enough to the public.