Housing Database Bill Pushed

Housing Database Bill Pushed LAS VEGAS, NV - With a $3 billion budget shortfall dominating debate in the state Legislature's final weeks, it would be easy to lose track of a bill that could directly affect tens of thousands of low-income people, as well as housing planning.

Assembly Bill 139 would require the state to create a database of affordable houses and apartments. Up to $175,000 per year is available for the project from the state's affordable housing trust fund, though the bill says it could cost less.

What benefits does it promise? One is obtaining data on housing available in the market, according to Assemblyman Marcus Conklin, the sponsor of the bill. "We have no idea about the difference between supply and demand in housing for our most vulnerable," Conklin said. "If we knew, we would be able to determine where our pitfalls are."

The state probably is missing out on federal money for affordable housing because planners can't quantify need, Conklin added. But the most direct benefit would be to poor people seeking a place to live.

Consider the situation, for example, of the estimated 25,000 people who will seek help this year from a Clark County program that offers $400 a month for help with paying rent. That program's enrollment is up about 50 percent from a year ago, most likely due to the Las Vegas Valley's double-digit unemployment rate.

But $400 a month doesn't go very far. Someone seeking that kind of help probably can't afford to keep a car. So that person will spend hours, days, sometimes weeks, boarding buses to visit apartments and houses listed in newspapers or elsewhere.

About half the year, this will be happening in 100-degree heat. If the person has children, they will probably have to go along for the ride. The search can take weeks because the apartments may already be rented, or in terrible shape.

The time spent looking for housing is time not spent on finding a job, or on health care, or being with family.

The same goes for thousands more people who, while not in the county program, do not have much money for rent and are seeking a place to live. Affordable housing was identified by a 2005 task force on growth as the valley's most pressing need.

Enter the proposed database. If such a thing existed, even the poorest could use it at public libraries for free. Libraries have air-conditioning and public phones for calling landlords. A simple, but often difficult, process becomes much easier.

A database similar to the one proposed has been online in Utah since October. It lists about 13,000 apartments and houses, with rents ranging from $295 to $1,300 a month, according to Shelli Goble, deputy program director of the Utah Housing and Community Development Division. Visits to the database's Web site have nearly tripled in the past three months, going from 3,600 hits in February to 9,000 in April.

Her agency didn't need legislative approval to design and operate the database and spent only $40,000 setting it up. To date, the site lists mostly apartments and houses that were built or renovated with state and federal money, but Goble said her agency is asking all property owners to participate.

She said the database has helped recently released prisoners trying to start over, senior citizens on fixed incomes, and many others.

For thousands of people in the Las Vegas Valley, having such information available at a click would "shorten the time between when a person in need and a person who can fill that need are brought together," Conklin said.
Source: LasVegasSun.com

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