When going around to speak with neighbors in the downtown area recently, Pastor Paul Hansen started knocking on doors at a small, six-unit complex that usually rented for less than $1,000 a month.
As a member of Nevadans for the Common Good, a faith-based coalition that organizes around social justice issues including housing affordability, he was hoping to speak with renters about what’s happening in their neighborhood, which included collecting their thoughts about changes at nearby school John S. Park Elementary.
“We asked the first unit if the residence had any school-aged children,” he said. “They told us no they were just short term vacation renters – tourists.”
As it turned out, every unit in the building, as well as the six-unit building next door, was occupied by short-term renters visiting....
At a time where rents are rising to unaffordable rates and housing stock is scarce, Barbara Paulsen, who leads Nevadans for the Common Good, said the volume of short-term rentals is eating into the already limited supply of affordable housing.
“At least 10,000 homes on the market are short term vacation rentals or Airbnb, which might be good for tourists but not long term renters and buyers – our teachers, nurses and hospitality workers and many others,” she said.
Paulsen joined members of the faith coalition Wednesday to speak with Clark County Commissioner Justin Jones about regulating short-term rentals, building affordable housing and increasing protections for renters.
[Photo Credit: Michael Lyle, Nevada Current]
Back in 2017 as hundreds of elderly Nevadans were on a waiting list for the Meals on Wheels program, Natalie Eustice and her friends at Nevadans for the Common Good learned the state was spending just 27 cents a meal for the program.
It was the lowest rate in the country -- by far -- and Eustice, a member of St. Thomas More Parish in Henderson, near Las Vegas, knew it was time for the state to boost funding so the long list could be pared down.
So when the state Legislature, which meets every two years, began considering Nevada's biennial budget, Eustice agreed to testify on behalf of Nevadans for the Common Good, which had mounted a campaign to build grassroots support. Eustice had two minutes. She told the legislators it was important that Nevada do a better job of supporting seniors so they could maintain their independence.
"It was very scary because I had never done anything like that before," Eustice, now 71, recalled in an interview with Catholic News Service ahead of Poverty Awareness Month, which is observed in January.
Her testimony and the voices of others at the hearing and hundreds more in writing convinced the Legislature and the governor to boost Meals on Wheels funding by $3.4 million. During this year's four-month legislative session, Nevadans for the Common Good secured an additional 50 cents per meal on top of the funding increase two years earlier....
[In photo: NCG leader Barbara Paulsen, at right with microphone, listens as a gubernatorial candidate agrees to support the organization's agenda at a 2018 accountability assembly. Her story is also covered in the articles below.]
Nevada Religious Communities Unify to Magnify the Voices of the Poor, Intermountain Catholic [pdf]
Encore: Nevada Religious Communities Unify to Magnify the Voices of the Poor, Catholic News Service
Citing a statewide affordable housing crisis, Nevadans for the Common Good threw their political weight behind a proposed tax credit program (recommended by an interim state legislative committee) as the most significant and winnable step forward to improve access to affordable housing. Leaders succeeded in pushing the bill, expected to create 2,400 affordable units over 4 years, through the state legislature. The new program is designed to encourage private housing developers to build affordable housing for low-income households, and will provide developers $10 Million per year in tax credits to do so.
NCG leaders laid the groundwork for this legislative change with a listening campaign and nine months of research actions in 2018. They organized nonpartisan accountability assemblies (photos above), secured the Governor's commitment to support this legislation, and included a call to support this legislation in their postcard campaign. Leaders furthermore testified at the legislature and met with individual legislators to remind them of their commitments.
NCG recognize that this action alone will not solve the Nevada housing crisis, but are celebrating this as an important step in the right direction.
Nevada's Affordable Housing Crisis, Nevadans for the Common Good
So far in this spring legislative session, 'Nevadans for the Common Good' sent 4,000 postcards to the governor and state legislators in support of $40 million in affordable housing tax credits and a substantial increase in funding for Nevada public schools.
NCG leaders are furthermore engaged in an impassioned fight with the payday lending industry over passage of SB 201, which would establish a payday lending database that would track short-term, high-interest loans to better protect consumers. NCG initially sent a delegation of 10 leaders to the Capitol, which met with 17 legislators in one day. Since then, leaders have communicated their concerns through hundreds of emails and phone calls that included personal stories to legislators about the harmful effects of predatory lending.
Most recently, 50 leaders attended a midday hearing and delivered powerful testimony about the impact of high-interest loans on families. Rev. Sandy Johnson with United Methodist Church in Boulder City, spoke on behalf of NCG, sharing that her personal friend experienced great financial difficulties brought on by payday loans.
“If existing state laws were enforced," said Pastor Johnson, "consumers like her would be protected from being trapped in a debt cycle for more than two decades. The long term economic stability of families should not be undermined if they take out a short-term loan.”
Payday Lending Opponents, Industry Clash in Charged Hearing Over Loan Database, Nevada Independent
Acting on an extended house meeting campaign, in which leaders unearthed stories of payday lending entrapment, lack of affordable housing and concerns around public education, NCG launched a 5,000 postcard campaign to remind Southern Nevada legislators about commitments they had made on the campaign trail last year.
Leaders are calling for $500 million in new state funding for public schools, $40 million for an affordable housing tax credit program and improved payday lending enforcement across the state. With two proposals on the table that would cap interest rates on payday loans (which charge, on average, 652% in interest per year) NCG is pushing for better protections for financially vulnerable families.
80+ leaders and education allies packed the library at Western High School in Las Vegas for NCG's "Education Funding Summit," building momentum for a significant increase in public education funding.
The Guinn Center for Policy Priorities disclosed that nearly $2 billion is needed to adequately fund Nevada schools. Clark County School District Superintendent Dr. Jara and County Judge Voy spoke to the need for greater funding, and Assemblywomen Swank, Miller, and Backus declared their support.
This is part of a larger campaign to prepare for the 2019 Legislative session in which leaders plan to push for expanded funding for schools, increased affordable housing units, and protection for consumers through a payday lending enforcement system.
On a dark Wednesday evening, 500 leaders from Nevadans for the Common Good lit up the gym at West Prep Academy and assembled to secure commitments from federal, gubernatorial, and state candidates at a nonpartisan accountability assembly at West Prep Academy.
With pressure from leaders, candidates committed to work with NCG to increase affordable housing units, invest in public education, increase funding for FQHCs, protect Medicaid expansion, shine a light upon delays in the citizenship process, and create a database to protect consumers from predatory payday lending.
During the forum, leaders shared their personal experiences including on healthcare. NCG leader Taj Ainlay testified that qualifying for Medicaid enabled him to see a doctor “for the first time in seven years.” Agatha Ramirez shared that it took her five months to become a US citizen and that it had taken her brother-in-law nineteen months and counting.
Among the candidates who attended were gubernatorial candidate Steve Sisolak (D), senatorial candidate Jacky Rosen (D), congressional candidates Steven Horsford (D), Susie Lee (D), Danny Tarkanian (R), and Representative Dina Titus (D).
Candidates Asked Views on Pressing Issues at Las Vegas Forum, Las Vegas Review-Journal [pdf]
“They didn’t read the contract, they didn’t understand or whatever. But just from a Christian standpoint, that what’s Jesus came to do, to help the lowly,” Robin Collins from Green Valley United Methodist Church said. “He came to help the sick, He didn’t come to help the well. So we’re supposed to take care of our brothers and sisters, take care of a widow, take care of an orphan.”
Members of the payday lending industry say they are unfairly stigmatized and provide much-needed access to quick credit that traditional banks or lending institutions do not. Their arguments are bolstered by dozens of lobbyists and hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions to top candidates.
Still, it’s been more than a decade since the last substantial changes to consumer protection laws on high-interest loans, and advocates — primarily general welfare groups like the Legal Aid of Southern Nevada, a cadre of progressive organizations and the faith-based coalition Nevadans for the Common Good — are looking to the 2019 Legislature as a chance to push for new consumer protections and limits on high-interest lenders.
[Photo Credit: David Calvert, Nevada Independent]
After 2017 Shortcomings, Advocates Prepare to Push for New Consumer Protections on Payday Loans, Nevada Independent
Leaders with 'Nevadans for the Common Good' have begun building a constituency of voters who are educated about the dangers of payday lending by holding civic academies on the subject. The next civic academy is scheduled to take place at Las Vegas University United Methodist Church.
Community Groups Urge Nevadans to Learn Risks of Payday Loans, Public News Service