The Federal Land Stranglehold

- and What Nevada Can Do About It

By Charles F. Barr
  • Friday, June 1, 2007

Executive Summary

The federal government owns or controls 86 percent of the land in Nevada and even more — 89 percent — in Clark County. The tight federal grip on this land is causing economic harm — and, in many cases, genuine hardship — to local developers, workers, renters and would-be homeowners.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) refuses to release more than a token amount of land each year for construction of homes, schools, parks and businesses. This artificial, government-induced scarcity of buildable land — in an area surrounded by mile after mile of wide-open spaces — has triggered massive increases in the price of remaining privately owned land, to the point where the average family can no longer afford the mortgage payments for a median-priced home.

Numerous multi-million-dollar residential and commercial projects have been cancelled or put on hold, resulting in thousands of lost construction jobs, simply because the high land prices have made such projects too costly to build. In addition, construction of affordable two- and three-story apartment complexes has been severely reduced, causing rents for existing apartments to rise sharply.

The resulting higher cost of living is having an increasingly negative impact on Clark County’s ability to attract and retain the skilled and unskilled workers needed to support its growing economy. Lack of housing affordability is a major cause of the current teacher shortage, which is negatively impacting the quality of education for children in the county’s primary and secondary schools.

A fundamental change in federal land policy is critically needed to restore housing affordability and maintain longterm economic growth in southern Nevada. Fortunately, Nevada is increasing its political clout at the national level. Nevada is now the home state of the U.S. Senate Majority Leader and an early caucus state for the 2008 presidential election. The time is ripe to use Nevada’s growing political leverage at the national level to loosen the grip of the federal government on our land.

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