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Housing prices are rising rapidly across the Mountain West, especially in resort towns, and that’s making it difficult for many residents to buy a home or rent an apartment. In this ongoing series, the Mountain West News Bureau is examining the problem — and potential solutions — across the region.

As Western states add population, rental assistance falls short

Bill Brewer stands on the right side of the image wearing a plaid shirt. He’s looking up at an apartment building that’s being remodeled.
Bert Johnson
Mountain West News Bureau
Bill Brewer of the Nevada Rural Housing Authority visits an apartment building owned by the agency in December, 2021. He says Section 8 allocations haven’t kept pace with population growth.

Housing costs are rising fast in our region as economic development attracts new residents and supply chain problems cause building delays. But a federal program that helps low-income renters is falling short.

News Brief

The Nevada Rural Housing Authority will start accepting applications for Housing Choice Vouchers Thursday. Due to high demand, qualified applicants will be put on a waitlist and it could be a year or more before they get help.

The program is better known as Section 8. It sends money to landlords every month to cover part of their tenant’s rent.

Bill Brewer, who’s executive director of the housing authority, says the program needs to be updated as housing prices in Nevada reach new highs.

“I think there’s a much greater demand now simply because rental values have gone up so dramatically in the last two to three years,” he said.

Section 8 is separate from the federal Emergency Rental Assistance Program enacted to prevent evictions during the pandemic – which is also short on funds.

The number of Section 8 vouchers each state receives hasn’t changed in decades. It’s a big problem in Nevada, which has around 3 million residents but less than 20,000 vouchers.

President Biden’s social spending and climate package, known as “Build Back Better,” includes billions of dollars to expand Section 8 assistance, but the legislation remains stalled in Congress.

Meanwhile, people keep moving to the Mountain West. According to recent census numbers, Idaho was the fastest growing state in the nation, while Utah, Montana and Arizona ranked in the top ten.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Bert is KUNR’s senior correspondent. He covers stories that resonate across Nevada and the region, with a focus on environment, political extremism and Indigenous communities.
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