Neighborhood Stabilization Program ends in Las Vegas, forcing tenants to move out

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This house changed everything for Ursulia Christmas.

“It was great,” the 48-year-old single mother of six recalls when she moved in. “I saved money. I could get my kids the things they wanted. Put them through basketball, baseball.”

Christmas has rented the four-bedroom Lone Mountain home from the City of Las Vegas since 2011. Their walls are covered with family photos, certificates of honor and other memorabilia. She put a swing in the backyard. It’s just one of hundreds of lots the city bought during the Great Recession as part of a federal program aimed at filling abandoned homes.

“Who would give that up?” Christmas said.

Then the letter came.

A notice in the Post in mid-May told Christmas that the city had been authorized by the Department of Housing and Urban Development to sell her home. It wasn’t a resignation, but the letter strongly suggested that she would eventually have to move.

Now, Christmas and her children are among dozens of families fearing home insecurity and possible eviction as Las Vegas shuts down the state-funded housing program. Having overseen hundreds of properties, it is in the process of selling its last 61 homes.

A move would require the family to navigate a volatile housing and rental market: although mortgage rates have fallen slightly in recent weeks, prices are still high and inventories are still low.

It’s not just about the cost. The children of Christmas are between 4 and 27 years old. The three youngest were adopted in 2021, she said, and some of them have special needs. A move would mean uprooting their children from school, daycare and their therapy offers. She would need to move further away from her 73-year-old mother, who has health problems and who visits Christmas regularly to care for her.

“It was stressful. I was sick and I didn’t sleep,” Christmas said. “I just don’t know what these people are going to do.”

Answer to the housing shortage

The neighborhood stabilization program started in 2008 after the real estate bubble burst and the financial consequences. In three installments, the program has allocated a total of nearly $7 billion to cities and nonprofits nationwide.

Funds could be used for activities including rehabilitating abandoned or foreclosed homes, demolishing devastated lots, rehabilitating neighborhoods, or providing down payment assistance. But cities had discretion over how to invest the money.

Las Vegas received more than $25 million in NSP funding. Some of these funds were used to help families buy abandoned or foreclosed homes, the Review Journal reports. But about 55 percent of the grant was used to purchase long-term rental units for lower-income families.

At the peak of the program between 2010 and 2012, Las Vegas owned more than a hundred rental properties. Most were between Tule Springs and Summerlin South – zip codes with the highest foreclosure rates at the time.

The houses were rented to people earning 50 percent or less of the area’s median income, documents show. According to the Southern Nevada Regional Housing Authority website, which paid the city to manage the properties, a five-bedroom home could rent for as little as $845 a month.

Other communities have also embraced the long-term lease strategy: Henderson, for example, provided funds to local nonprofits to buy and renovate rental homes. Kathleen Richards, a spokeswoman for Henderson, said there are 23 NSP homes in Henderson that are still operating as affordable housing units.

Las Vegas residents said NSP gave them a chance to improve financially while improving their quality of life. And prior to this year, homes were only sold after tenants voluntarily moved out, said Kathi Thomas-Gibson, the city’s director of community services.

Then, in 2019, Thomas-Gibson said the city received orders from HUD to “expeditiously” complete the program.

“It was always designed as a temporary program,” she said.

Christmas and several other residents swear they were told by a housing authority representative they would never be forced to move when they moved in more than a decade ago. Others say they always knew they would have to leave at some point. None of the residents interviewed for this story have documents promising to stay on the property.

In any case, NSP ends at a time when property values ​​are inflated and affordable housing is scarce, making residents nervous. They find that the value of their home has skyrocketed since they moved in.

For example, the city bought the Christmas house in December 2009 for $140,109. But today, the house is probably worth at least double that: In 2019, the house next door sold for $307,500. Zillow estimates the Christmas house’s market value could be around $471,000.

Profits from the sale of the homes will flow into other affordable housing programs, including future developments, Thomas-Gibson said. But that’s little consolation for NSP residents, who want to remain in their homes.

The situation is part of a broader crisis of affordable rental housing, experts say. Residents are now relying on a makeshift solution to a “smoldering problem.” Southern Nevada faces an estimated housing shortage of more than 80,000 units.

“It’s really a bigger problem that people across the country are grappling with right now,” said Tammy Leonard, an economist and professor at the University of Dallas who studied NSP activities in her city. “It’s a failure on all fronts that we still have affordable housing issues in the United States.”

delays in information

For more than a month after receiving the letters, residents said they were struggling to get details as they called multiple local authorities.

A lack of information led several local residents to fear the worst. Many began to search feverishly for new apartments and were immediately intimidated by high rents and application fees.

“Nobody has a lot of information to give,” resident Timesha McCullah said in early June. She has three children and has lived in her NSP home for four years.

Clifton Mims, a 62-year-old retiree who lives at his NSP with his teenage son, said he has started looking for a move out of the state.

“I’m fighting now,” Mims said in June. “They don’t give me the information I need to do anything else.”

Residents called the housing authority — their go-to place for everything from rent to maintenance, until now. Some showed up at board meetings to ask officials for information.

Lewis Jordan, the agency’s executive director, said in June that the housing authority was “in contact” with the city and was aware of any plans to sell the NSP homes. But the heads of the agency still could not give any guidance to the tenants.

“It was definitely not something that we knew about before it started, before we started hearing from tenants,” said County Commissioner William McCurdy II, who serves as vice chair on the housing board.

Information seemed elusive until the end of June. Back then, on a hot Thursday evening, about 60 people gathered for a meeting at a community center in Centennial Hills.

The lights were turned off to keep the room cool. The mood was tense, anxious.

The meeting was chaired by Del Richardson & Associates, a public affairs and community services firm that is paying the city up to $400,000 to coordinate the families’ move. The company’s contract began in January, records show, but this was the first meeting with residents.

The presentation had barely begun when the crowd interrupted, impatient for answers.

“What is all this for?” called a man near the front. “We pay our rent. Don’t you think we’ve been through enough already?”

For more than two hours, residents expressed frustration with the confusing process and wondered what would come next. Several noted that the majority of those displaced were black.

DRA employees assured residents that the company could help them with moving expenses, rent, or down payment. The firm would handle all of the housing hunting, an employee said, and might even help them move out of state.

They described grants from the federal government and non-profit organizations, as well as services that DRA offers in the areas of financial strategy, credit generation, and human resource development. Tenants would receive another notification in the mail to determine their eligibility for services.

“Everything is on a case-by-case basis,” said Taurean Gordon, CEO of DRA, who described the transition timeline as “end of the year.”

“It could take longer per person,” he said.

By the end of the evening, many in the crowd were relieved to learn of the options available, but some were skeptical of the company. Many were still shocked at being asked to leave their homes.

“We felt like we had won the lottery,” said a woman in the crowd. “And now you take it away.”

“standstill” for local residents

With the federal program ending, city officials say the situation is largely out of their control. Any unused grant funds could be “reclaimed” by HUD.

“It’s not really like the city has a choice here,” said City of Las Vegas spokesman Jace Radke.

Thomas-Gibson said reducing the blow to residents was their priority, which is why DRA was shut down.

“We told DRA that every tenant needs to have a positive outcome,” she said. “Each family gets an individual plan that is tailored to their particular household.”

Since that meeting at the community center, DRA staff met individually with residents where they completed questionnaires to describe income and housing needs. It is not yet clear when and if the tenants will have to move out. Radke said DRA will provide a written update on their progress by December.

But now residents are feeling uneasy. McCullah said it feels like everything is at a “standstill”.

The ongoing uncertainty only increases the fears of local residents. Mims said he felt DRA was only brought in to “pacify” the crowd. In the meantime, he’s trying to get his old job back and is coming out of retirement to work as a ticket clerk and supervisor for William Hill. He’s still considering moving out of state.

“I’m still in limbo,” he said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Christmas said she visited a hospital twice after experiencing panic attacks.

“We don’t know what’s going on,” she said. “We think we’ll just get kicked out. … Sometimes I just get tired. Some days I try not to think about it, but we know that date is coming up.”

Contact Teghan Simonton at [email protected] or 702-477-3850. consequences @teghan_simonton on twitter.

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