Nevada Environmental Justice Coalition

SB350 to aid minority owners of sinking homes advances

LAS VEGAS, Nev. (AP) – A measure to put up $30 million in state and city funds won initial backing Thursday from Nevada state lawmakers to help homeowners move from a once-segregated North Las Vegas neighborhood where geologic features made homes crack, sink and sometimes become unsafe.

Democratic state Sen. Dina Neal, the bill sponsor, also called for North Las Vegas officials to explain how more than $14 million that she said had been allocated in the late 1990s to help residents in the Windsor Park area has been spent.

“They were seeking help. They’re still seeking help,” Neal said as she read into the legislative record North Las Vegas City Council minutes from 1993 and city budget documents entries since 2015 about Windsor Park — a middle-class tract of 241 homes built to accommodate black families during an era of housing segregation.

Three North Las Vegas officials testified, including the city finance director and a spokeswoman, Candace Townsend, who acknowledged that “geological faults and groundwater withdrawal issues (make) Windsor Park not suitable for the rebuilding of houses.”

Neal’s bill, dubbed the Windsor Park Environmental Justice Act, would have the city put up $20 million and the state put up $10 million to pay for 90 remaining homeowners to move to comparable single-family homes of similar size and value at today’s prices. The vacated area would be earmarked as a recreational park.

Neal represents the area and chairs the Revenue and Economic Development committee that voted unanimously to back Senate Bill 450. It next goes to the full Senate for a vote. If the Democratic-controlled Legislature passes it, Republican Gov. Joe Lombardo will consider it, said Elizabeth Ray, the governor’s spokeswoman.

Neal said geologic surveys weren’t done or did not show that the sandy hillside — with a sweeping view of downtown Las Vegas and the skyline of the casino-lined Strip in the distance — sits atop geologic faults and an underground water table that has since been drained.

Homesites sank or subsided. Walls cracked. Sewer lines leaked. Some properties were condemned as unsafe. Insurance companies withdrew coverage.

Today, the neighborhood not far from North Las Vegas Airport is a patchwork including neatly maintained homes, vacant lots, uneven sidewalks, undulating roads, crumbled foundations and dilapidated houses.

Relocation funds established with city, state and federal funds in 1999 offered homeowners $50,000 to move — if they agreed to relocate in North Las Vegas. That fund was increased in 2004 to $100,000. More than 100 homeowners left.

Some who still live there recalled for lawmakers on Thursday a tight-knit community where schoolchildren played and families attended churches together. Some said they didn’t want or couldn’t afford to move from homes they now own outright.

“We’re too old to start all over again,” said Myrtle Wilson, a resident since August 1965. “I think we have been shortchanged, this $100,000. I don’t want to leave my kids with a bill to pay, because I have taken care of everything.”

Neal pointed to a letter titled “Windsor Park History” that Wilson received from North Las Vegas officials, postmarked September 2022. It totaled the amount of relocation funding the city received from the state, federal grants and the government-sponsored Fannie Mae mortgage enterprise, as of August 2019, at $14.4 million.

Jared Luke, the city economic development chief, noted that North Las Vegas had a huge budget deficit 10 years ago and narrowly averted a state financial takeover. He said officials welcomed attention now to the “very complex and emotional” Windsor Park resettlement issue. But he called it “not a situation that we can fix right away.” He said the city opposed Neal’s bill.

“I think everyone’s on the same page,” Luke said. “You can’t rebuild in Windsor Park. The soil condition is deplorable. But (the city) can’t walk in and say, ‘Windsor Park is uninhabitable.’ “

Neal would have none of it. She is the daughter of Nevada’s first black state senator, Joe Neal, himself a two-time candidate for governor who served 30 years in the Legislature and died in late 2020.

“I’m tired of the excuses, and I’m tired of the statements that somehow these families missed their golden ticket to leave,” Neal said, noting her own ties to residents in Windsor Park. She accused city officials of “word games and omissions” and “recharacterizing truth” to deflect city responsibility.

“The remedy is still on the table because it has not been effective,” Neal declared. “You have neglected these families. They are aware of it.”

Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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