Housing Affordability in Nevada

May 29, 2024

Housing affordability is not only top of mind for many Nevadans but also a critical policy research topic ahead of the 2025 legislative session. 

In March 2024, the Guinn Center began its study on housing affordability, which will offer a menu of actionable, data-derived policy solutions for lawmakers to consider. Though the heart of this report is its policy analysis, a diverse group of stakeholders has been assembled to give voice to as many perspectives in the housing space as possible. 

To dig deeper into the intent and progress of this policy report, Assistant Director Kristine Caliger sat down with Director of Economic and Fiscal Policy Meredith Levine to discuss the Guinn Center’s study, set for completion in late fall 2024. Their conversation highlights the data used to understand Nevada’s housing landscape, what readers can expect from this study, and the early findings that have shaped the report’s direction. 

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Kristine Brown Caliger: Nevadans generally know how critical our housing needs are, but I think it’s important to understand the metrics we use to understand the severity of the affordability crisis. Can you share the specific data points that inform your understanding of Nevada’s housing affordability landscape?  


Meredith Levine: I’m going to start by backing up and discussing how we came to take on housing affordability as a topic in the first place. Last year, in conversations with research partners, legislators, stakeholders, members of the community, and our board of directors, this issue kept rising to the top. We also conducted a survey that showed the same interest. We knew we had to take on housing affordability in some form. But does the data show the state of housing affordability is as dire as we think? The answer is yes. Researchers use different metrics to determine whether housing is affordable in a given locality, there is general consensus around two specific dimensions. First, we look at how conditions affect extremely low-income renter households. Data from the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) suggests the affordability challenge is especially severe in Nevada, with just 14 affordable and available rental homes for every 100 extremely low-income renter households. This is the lowest in the nation, according to the NLIHC. The second metric we look at to gauge housing affordability is cost burden. Cost burden, including expenses like rent and utilities, generally shouldn’t exceed 30 percent of a household’s income. When the cost burden starts to exceed that amount for many households in a given region, we become concerned about overall affordability issues. In Clark County, more than half of renter households are cost-burdened in housing. That's according to U.S. Census data from 2021. The housing affordability crisis is real, and the data support it.


KBC: What specific questions on housing affordability do you hope or expect to answer in our report, and do you have a sense of which questions will fall outside the scope of our project but should be pursued in future research?


ML: I love this question because it does account for the fact that we hope to build on this project for future research. First, with this study, we want to better understand what the problems are as it pertains to housing affordability. From there, we can find appropriate solutions. We’ve already begun this process, and it's really exciting to see what jurisdictions both within Nevada and outside of Nevada have done to move the needle on housing. One of those examples is Minneapolis, Minnesota. As we examine these jurisdictions, we’ll see what they are doing well, what we could possibly learn, and how these findings might translate to legislative or regulatory action. The big goal is to determine what solutions could break through our choke points. When it comes to what research questions we’ll leave on the table for future research, the first thing that comes to mind is a comprehensive housing affordability needs assessment. A more thorough and granular understanding of Nevada’s housing needs is going to get us to where we need to be in the long term. There are some great studies happening here in Nevada, all of which contribute a vital part of the picture that our study may not capture, and it would be interesting to take a look at the intersections of housing, income, workforce, and the homeownership ladder in future research.


KBC: Though it’s early and it will take much more time to draw responsible conclusions, has anything caught your eye or surprised you in your research thus far?


ML: It is so early, but I think what I would say is this, I was expecting to find so many policy solutions that I wouldn't even know where to begin, and that is absolutely true. There are hundreds if not thousands of policy solutions. What I had expected to see but haven’t so far is consensus around “what works.” Though we may want to see a “silver bullet” come out of this study, the outcome we’re looking at is a strategy of multiple policy options. Creating that menu of options has always been the goal of this work.


KBC: Our first instinct is to seek out that “silver bullet,” that one simple treatment to cure a particular problem; but that expectation is so unrealistic when it comes to a complex issue such as housing. It makes far more sense that the remedies would be just as varied as the issues. As we wrap up this conversation, what is one thing you want people to know about this study they may not already understand?


ML: The first thing I want people to understand is that things have changed since the pandemic. It’s not that we didn't understand how crucial housing was before the COVID-19 pandemic, but at a time when everyone needed to be in a sheltered location, the emotional and physical ideas of a house became very pronounced to us. Then, of course, we emerge from the post-pandemic landscape and it looks completely different than the Great Recession landscape. What I want people to know is that though there are many good studies on housing, this is a great time to reinvestigate the issue. Our statewide report is intended to provide a menu of actionable policy options for lawmakers to pursue, solutions that are based on evidence and are rigorous. We’ll get there by casting a wide net, and by hearing from diverse stakeholders who represent as many perspectives on this issue as possible.

This interview was edited for content and clarity. 


For more detailed information about this report, read and download the overview.