‘I just care about change’: Nevada Latinos on their cost of living fears | Nevada

Claudia Lopez, 39, is worried about her children.

As her curly-haired seven-year-old daughter bounced around a playground inside El Mercado, a strip mall on the Boulevard Mall in Las Vegas where the smell of arepas and tacos hangs over the stores, Lopez soaked up her day off. doors and talk to residents about the upcoming elections.

For much of her life, Lopez, whose parents emigrated from Mexico to California, where she was born, was uninterested in politics. This year, that changed: Since Lopez moved to Las Vegas seven years ago, rents have skyrocketed. In the first quarter of 2022, the Nevada State Apartment Association found that rents had climbed, on average, more than 20% compared to the same period last year. This growth has since slowed, but the independent housekeeper is worried about the future of her children: their safety, their schools, their housing.

“I don’t care about Democrats or Republicans,” Lopez says. “I care about change. I just want a change for the better. Everything gets worse. You see little children say, ‘Are they going to live to my age?’ »

In Nevada, the political stakes of this election are high. Latino voters are expected to make up one in five potential voters in November, turning the state into a microcosm of the nationwide influence voters of color will have on the election. While Nevada voted Democratic in the last election, its contests were won by narrow margins. And as an electoral bloc, Latinos are not monolithic: what interests them ranges from immigration to the economy and depends on where they live in the country.

However, an emerging, central and practical concern for this group is the rising cost of living, particularly housing. The state has the largest affordable housing shortage in the country. For every 100 renters in Nevada, there are only 18 affordable housing units available for very low-income households, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. By comparison, Mississippi, which has the highest poverty rate in the country, has 58 units available for every 100 renters.

“It’s a perfect storm,” said Melissa Morales, founder of Somos Votantes, a nonprofit focused on encouraging Latino voter turnout. “You have the state that has been hardest hit by unemployment and its economy has been hardest hit by the pandemic. You have the first Latin American senator in American history to be re-elected.

“For Latino voters, they are less interested in a blame game and much more interested in solutions,” she added. “When they put economics and those kinds of costs that are at the top of their list, they really look at which part is providing concrete solutions to those problems.”

In the gubernatorial race, Democratic incumbent Steve Sisolak, who has approved $500 million in federal bailout funds for US housing development, plans to work with state lawmakers to stop companies from buying properties , reforming evictions and imposing rent controls. He extended a moratorium on evictions until last May amid the pandemic.

But on his website, his Republican opponent Joe Lombardo criticized Sisolak’s administration as a “roadblock to affordable housing,” saying Lombardo would streamline permits and licensing for housing.

Despite the political posturing, there are questions about whether Latino voters will show up. This presents a tricky question for organizers trying to cut through past political rhetoric to capture the attention of Latino voters: Who has the practical answers to curb America’s most pressing problems: the rising cost of living? And what will convince them that politicians will actually keep these promises?

Advocacy groups have taken to the sidewalks in an attempt to close voter education gaps.

Morales says that of their canvassing operations in Nevada, Arizona and Michigan, those in Nevada have spoken the most about rising housing and health care costs.

Morales is chairman of Somos PAC, which backed Senator Catherine Cortez Masto, the first Latina elected to the U.S. Senate, who is fighting for re-election against former Nevada Attorney General and Republican Adam Laxalt. While Cortez Masto’s website praises his work to “expand affordable housing” and “address housing discrimination”, Laxalt’s does not mention housing as an issue, instead focusing on the economy, crime, immigration and other issues.

The Culinary Workers Union, whose 60,000 hospitality workers are mostly people of color, is also embarking on what it hopes will be its biggest canvassing operation in history, sending at least 350 canvassers, with closer to election day, for quarters six days a week.

Hoping to reach 1 million homes, union canvassers focus on calling for rent hikes to be blocked and cost of living cuts, responding to a nationwide crisis that has upended voters’ lives color in the region.

On a recent trip to a quiet north Las Vegas neighborhood, where about four out of ten Latinos live, Miguel Regalado went door to door in the sweltering desert heat.

A senior canvasser who has embarked on several campaigns since 2016, Regalado, like hundreds of others, had taken time off from work to speak with voters. So did Rocelia Mendoza and Marcos Rivera, who joined him in strolling through the neighborhood full of nearly identical homes, with white exteriors and red roofs, Halloween decorations on their front yards.

Regalado, a utility porter at the D Casino, and Mendoza, a restaurant bus person at the Wynn who has worked his fourth campaign since 2017, checked their tablets for the list of addresses. When the knocks went unanswered, they affixed documentation and approval guides to people’s doors.

Those who responded were largely black and Latino residents, with Regalado and Mendoza relating to some in Spanish. They have often framed their arguments around signing a petition calling for “neighborhood stability” — a set of proposals to stop rent increases in Clark and Washoe counties, where Las Vegas and Reno are located — and to support the candidates, largely Democrats, who have signed up to support the cause. These two cities represent battlegrounds for Republicans and Democrats, as Republicans have successfully persuaded more Latino voters in Las Vegas since 2020, but have lost ground with them in Reno.

David Damore, chair of the political science department at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said door-to-door operations were key to encouraging turnout among Latino voters. Without the union’s door-to-door, whose membership is overwhelmingly people of color, “Nevada wouldn’t have gone from red to blue,” Damore wrote in an email. “There are some hard-fought wins down the line this cycle.”

Ted Pappageorge, secretary-treasurer of the Culinary Workers Union, told the Guardian that working-class Nevada residents of all racial and ethnic backgrounds have expressed concern to members about rent, the cost of inflation and the rising health care costs.

“Our members can’t afford houses like they used to,” said Pappageorge, who served as union president for a decade. “We see that people are worried and want to know what to do. And we have a plan to win.

The canvassers themselves face housing constraints. Before the pandemic, Regalado tried to buy a house. He made offers and felt qualified. “I’ve outbid every time I’ve done it,” Regalado says. He worried about what he had heard from members of the community about companies buying properties in Las Vegas as investments and the strain this is putting on people’s lives.

“Rising prices are making it harder for everyone to buy a house and find a place to live. They’re buying up rents and raising prices all at once, making it harder and harder for the community to have decent housing We have also seen eviction notices in apartment complexes due to rising rents.

Marcos Rivera, who was approaching for the first time, said he too wanted to buy a house but was forced to rent an apartment. His family’s rent has gone up by more than 40%. He worried about landlords lobbying to raise rents mid-year.

“If we don’t do anything about it, it will continue to grow. It’s absolutely insane,” Rivera says. “We should only have one job to support our family and our rent. We shouldn’t have two jobs to live decently.

In its latest canvassing announcement, the union noted that its goal of one million door knocks in Reno and Las Vegas would reach “more than half of black and Latino voters and more than a third of Asian voters. Americans from the Pacific Islands to Nevada”. .

OWhile her daughter fiddled with food at El Mercado, Lopez, who does not support abortion rights, recounted how since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v Wade, she wondered what other constitutional rights would be taken away from women like her and her daughter.

Underlying this was the anxiety that she would be unable to provide the life her parents had for her, that due to the cost of living in America she would not be able to afford a house, even though his parents owned two houses.

“As a Hispanic woman, I’d like to say we’re able to do what my parents came to do,” Lopez says. “It’s crazy how my parents came here illegally. They own two houses. And I was born here and I can’t afford to buy a house because they’re skyrocketing.

Lopez, who is canvassing the Culinary Workers Union, registered herself and her family to vote for the first time. She understood those she met who were disenchanted with politics, who faced evictions and the instability of unaffordable living situations as their jobs were disrupted by the pandemic. But she is determined to make sure they have a say in the political future of the state.

“Our voice matters,” Lopez told the Guardian when asked about the collective power of Latino voters. “We can make a change.”

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