Do we live in a world where housing is valued; tenants are protected; and the unhoused community is properly supported? We would, under the principle of “housing first.” That means housing is a primary need, and everything else is secondary.
Recently, the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s webinar “A World Without Housing First” examined how much is at stake if anti-housing-first legislation is enacted, how it would impact people experiencing homelessness and housing instability, and what things were like before housing first was adopted.
But the bitter truth is that Nevadans already live in that world. We have the nation’s worst affordable housing shortage, and our laws are some of the most landlord-friendly in the country.
In December, Washoe County’s sheriff backed an ordinance aimed at further criminalizing the unsheltered community for engaging in life-sustaining activities. Local leaders are slow to embrace cost-effective, evidence-based best practices to support the unhoused, or are quick to shirk responsibility and point a finger at others rather than creating stable neighborhoods. Our governor barely acknowledged Nevada’s ongoing housing crisis in his State of the State address. Landlords continue to hold dominion over tenants with the ability to both “raise the roof” on rent and swiftly evict renters. In Nevada, it’s clear that housing needs come last.
Housing first is both a strategy and a philosophy. For service providers, it is a focused approach that (quickly) prioritizes permanent housing for those experiencing homelessness. For advocates, it is the value that housing is a fundamental human right, something essential that is to be supported, provided and protected. Both groups share the belief that housing is the foundation from which everything is built in order for people to thrive.
The sad reality, however, is that for far too many people, especially the powers that be, housing is seen as a commodity, something to invest in, speculate in and profit from. This creates an untenable, unsustainable environment in which working Nevadans continue to struggle to get by.
Forging a world where housing is first starts by shifting the power from the hands of landlords and speculative investors into the hands of tenants. Simply put: It’s putting people over profits so that all Nevadans (and everyone) can flourish. Housing-first policies mean putting our communities first, centering on their needs and experiences, and building tenant power. In the long run, it would mean tenants have explicit rights elucidated in a “Renters Bill of Rights”—in such a way that landlords won’t look at working families as a means to make a quick buck.
Housing is at the heart of any family’s ability to thrive and succeed. With housing-first policies, we can all live without making families must choose between food and/or life-saving medicines, or keeping a roof over their heads.
The Nevada Legislature has the ability to start making this a reality, by ending summary evictions, addressing rising costs and tackling predatory application fees. The Nevada Housing Justice Alliance will be fighting for housing first throughout the legislative session. You can join our fight at www.nvhousingjustice.org.
Ben Iness is the coalition coordinator for the Nevada Housing Justice Alliance.