Affordable housing vanishes as society goes to the dogs |

Affordable housing vanishes as society goes to the dogs

by John L. Smith

They say it’s a dog’s life, but canines have it much better than some people. Ritzy pet resorts are increasing in popularity among those who can afford to pamper their pooches. Cacophonous kennels and barren dog runs resembling the county lockup are being replaced by comfy quarters and lush lawns. There are even swimming pools at the best mutt Marriots.

Who can yap about accommodations that include heated floors, air-conditioning, music and television, hiking and swimming, and even pedicures and stories at bedtime, according to a recent article in the Business section of The New York Times? With overnight stays reaching to $100 and beyond, it’s lifestyles of the bitch and famous.

And Fido won’t quibble about the kibble. Dried nuggets are being replaced by tasty meals prepared by chefs.

At Mazzu’s Canine and Feline Hotel in Philadelphia, a suite costs as much as $185 a night and a filet mignon dinner is a mere $25 more, The Times reports.

Funny, you’d think a dog would prefer a steak with a bone in it. But I digress.

With Americans spending an estimated $38.4 billion on their pets this year – a figure that’s more than doubled in the past decade – it seems no expense is too great for man’s best friend.

Others, especially those Southern Nevadans who need affordable housing to stay off the streets, don’t seem to fare as well. At a time of unprecedented growth and prosperity in the valley, the working poor and Social Security survivors are rapidly running out of affordable places to live.

In recent months, trailer parks have been closed and sold to speculators. In recent weeks, the Moulin Rouge, Victory Hotel and Little Hotel have either closed for repairs or for good, eliminating more than 150 affordable apartments and rooms downtown. The closing of the Moulin Rouge alone took 110 rooms out of service. Those rooms, and the monthly social service vouchers issued to pay for them, were all that kept most of those people from living on the streets.

If that is starting to sound like a trend, it is. Low-rent dwellings are disappearing fast, and homeless advocates argue that providing low-cost housing remains a low priority for local governments and the development sector.

“I think that poverty doesn’t rank high on a lot of lists of community planning for some reason,” Straight From the Streets director Linda Lera-Randle El says. “We seem to try to coupon poverty. We don’t put in the proper infrastructure in the first place, and then we wonder why it crumbles all the time.”

Contrary to the stereotypical homeless wino, she says, most of her clients want to leave the street for good. Finding a suitable residence is an increasing challenge.

The Moulin Rouge, Victory and Little Hotel weren’t exactly the Ritz-Carlton, but they were superior to the handful of options, Lera-Randle El observes.

At least those places had roofs.

At one apartment complex near Karen Avenue and Paradise Road, the ceilings were caving in and the roaches were prolific. The landlords were eventually cited and the unsalvageable apartments were boarded up.

“They cite every single homeless person they can find sitting at a bus stop, but they won’t put the resources into the people it takes to inspect these places,” she says.

That’s why some street-corner skeptics believe there’s a plan, unwritten perhaps, to keep the working poor and homeless moving away from the downtown redevelopment area and other neighborhoods where real estate values have skyrocketed.

“We have a tremendous shortage of available places, and we can’t put people into something that doesn’t exist,” she says. “They are simply removing everything right before our eyes.”

The press devotes reams of copy to the sputtering housing market, but you rarely read much about the lack of available low-cost dwellings in the valley. In the shadow of Fremont Street and along the old apartment rows, the residences might have been ancient and even shabby, but to the desperate they’ve resembled so many Taj Mahals. Now they’re vanishing.

Given the grim reality, I suggest Southern Nevada’s working poor develop a taste for kibble, learn to fetch and pass themselves off as collies. That’s where society’s fickle heart is focused.

And a doghouse beats no house at all.

• John L. Smith’s column, reprinted from the Las Vegas Review-Journal, appears on Thursdays on the Appeal’s Opinion page. E-mail him at or call (702) 383-0295.