Despite population growth in Nevada, some residents call it and move elsewhere

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Auburn Harrison, her husband and their three sons moved from Reno to Portland, Oregon in March. Courtesy photo


The math didn’t work for Richard Luciano.

Her search for a new home with enough room for her aging parents became a ritual of disappointment. He and his wife have roamed the Las Vegas real estate market for over a year and a half, watching prices soar and bidding wars become the norm. Prices advertised on home builders’ billboards? Not even close to reality, says Luciano.


“I was standing every Tuesday (in) a drawing to see if I win a fucking house that I have to pay $ 500,000 for that is worth $ 300,000,” he said.


Enough was enough, he decided, which is how the 55-year-old ended up hosting a moving sale last week. In the garage of his rental home, wall decorations, appliances and various household items awaited buyers. An orange tabby cat, meanwhile, rested in an upstairs bedroom, a few steps away from valuable items packed in plastic bins.


Luciano and his wife say goodbye to Nevada. They bought a new home – 2,000 square feet on a golf course – for $ 399,000 in eastern Pennsylvania. After attending family weddings in the Poconos region, they focused on this location. Luciano, a consultant for car dealerships, can work anywhere.


Their departure, at least at first glance, runs counter to the narrative that Nevada is a fast growing state that has attracted over 400,000 people here over the past decade. But the pandemic, associated economic consequences, climate concerns and political atmosphere collided in a way that has caused people nationally and in Nevada to re-evaluate their priorities, including where they live.


“It seems like people are going through some real soul-searching right now,” said Karen Danielsen, associate professor in the School of Public Policy and Leadership at UNLV. “They’re trying to decide what’s a good career for them and obviously … what’s important to them in terms of where they live.”


It’s too early to say how all of this will change for the state’s long-term demographic trends, but for those packing their bags or already gone, home no longer means Nevada.


The 2020 census ranked Nevada the fifth fastest growing state in the country, behind North Dakota, Texas, Idaho and Utah. The population grew 15 percent from 2010 to 2020, eclipsing more than 3.1 million people.

Nye County leads the pack with a 17.4 percent increase, followed by Clark County (16.1 percent) and Washoe County (15.4 percent). On the other hand, the biggest drop, according to the US Census Bureau, occurred in Lincoln County, which lost 846 residents, or 15.8% of its population.

State demographer Matthew Lawton expects the net population gains to be greater than the net losses in the future, but the question is by how much. His office projects regular growth, ranging from 1% to 1.7% per year over the next five
years, bringing the state’s total population to over 3.3 million by 2025.

Yet Lawton acknowledged that it is an “uncertain time” for demographers trying to make projections.


“A lot of demographic estimates, projections are really based on economic data,” he said. “We’ve seen a lot of economic upheaval in the last 18 months, and it’s really created a lot of uncertainty in the data, so we have to do our best to try to accommodate that.”


Mehmet Serkan Tosun, professor of economics at UNR’s College of Business, suggests watching the pull and push factors that affect demographic trends – in other words, what draws people here compared to which scares them away.

The latter could be a combination of insufficient job opportunities, affordability issues, environmental concerns and dissatisfaction with the education system, he said, noting that these factors may well be different in the north, southern and rural parts of the state.

For Natalie Schaffer, the decision to leave Las Vegas came down to the cost of living. In the spring, the 58-year-old woman learned that her rent would drop from $ 1,300 to $ 2,400 per month. She had lived in her two bedroom apartment near Desert Inn Road and Durango Drive for 13 years.


“I tried to find another place to move, but I was having the same problem,” said Schaffer, a telephone triage nurse. “And the housing, if you want to rent the house, you might as well buy a house because you have to put in the first month, last month – all those deposits – and that comes down to $ 10,000 for a $ 2,000 house. . “


She decided that too much of her annual income of about $ 65,000 would be swallowed up by housing costs. So in May, she moved to Raleigh, North Carolina. Her sister and brother-in-law, who were also feeling pressured by the cost of housing, joined her. They now live together and rent a three bedroom apartment for $ 1,300 a month.


The trio are waiting, hoping to return next year if Las Vegas rental prices drop a bit. But Schaffer, who has a nursing degree and works remotely from North Carolina, wonders how people who make less money than her can keep up.


“I feel like someone has to look at it and say, ‘Wait a minute, that doesn’t make sense,'” she said.


The median price of an existing single-family home sold in the Las Vegas area was $ 405,000 in August, according to data from Las Vegas Realtors. In Reno, the median price of an existing single-family home is even higher – $ 553,500, according to the Reno / Sparks Association of Realtors.


Average rents in the two metropolitan areas also rose, reaching $ 1,341 (up 19%) in Las Vegas and $ 1,544 (up 17%) in Reno last month, according to The data compiled by RentCafé.


The upward trend in rental prices has persuaded Dennise Mena, 26, and her partner, Jesse Ochoa, 29, to move to Washington, DC, where they will pay $ 1,400 a month for a one-bedroom apartment. This is comparable to what they would expect to pay in Reno if they moved to a nicer apartment. They are currently paying nearly $ 1,100 a month for a two-bedroom apartment, but Mena described it as “falling apart” with needed repairs that the owner won’t tackle.


In short, they felt stuck.


“Each year we have gradually improved financially and yet we are in the same place to live because each year the rent has increased so much,” Ochoa said.


Additionally, Ochoa said his search for a job related to his mechanical engineering degree has been difficult in Reno. He hopes to have better luck in the nation’s capital, where Mena has accepted and started a communications-related job in the non-profit sector.


Mena and Ochoa grew up in Carson City and Las Vegas, respectively. They see Nevada as their homeland – and might return there someday – but are eager to put down roots in a bigger city where they think their Latinx culture could be more celebrated. So although housing costs were the determining factor, cultural considerations also played a role.


“There is a fairly large Latinx community. There is a very large brown community in general, ”Mena said, describing Reno. “What I would say is that culturally we are suffocated here.”


They plan to begin the hike across the country on October 14, with their dog and belongings packed in a U-Haul.



Auburn Harrison has already left Reno. After 15 years living in the “biggest little town,” the decision to leave came like a sudden jolt. Reno is where Harrison, a former TV reporter, met her husband and gave birth to their three sons. But the pandemic and all of its associated stressors – 12-hour workdays and supporting children through virtual learning – have taken their toll.


“It kind of made me rethink, like, how do I want to spend my time?” she said.


Harrison quit her job as a nonprofit executive director last October to focus on her children. But the urge to travel set in, made worse by what she described as an embarrassing sighting: She began to see more pro-Trump flags and campaign material in their southwestern Reno neighborhood.


“I was just like, ‘God, I don’t really necessarily live with the type of people I thought I was living with,'” she said. “Maybe we don’t have the same values.


It was time, she and her husband decided, to embark on a new adventure. They bought a bicycle store in Portland, Oregon, and moved there in March. Her husband runs the bike shop, making her lifelong dream come true, while she does consultancy work. Their boys, aged 10, 7 and 3, make new friends.


Harrison, 40, said they would always cherish their time in Nevada, but they don’t regret leaving.
“We were very lucky,” she says. ” Everything went well. We are very grateful to be here.


In the south, in Henderson, climate and health problems largely prompted Kathy Gillespie to retire across the country. She has a condition called Sarcoidosis, which compromised his lungs. The house she shared with her partner at the Anthem Country Club usually had a view of the Las Vegas Strip. These days it’s hit or miss, an indication of poor air quality that could affect his breathing.


“It’s just fog or smog, or it’s forest fires or, you know, whatever,” she said.


Gillespie, 68, also said she couldn’t think about the water situation. She sees more traffic, more condos, more homes, more people, more sprinklers – and not enough conservation efforts given the ongoing drought in the area.


So, she and her partner sold their Anthem home last week and will be dividing their time between homes in Fort Myers, Florida, and on the North Carolina coast on the outskirts of Myrtle Beach.


“I just don’t see people doing conservation, and I see Lake Mead going down, down, down,” she said.


Gillespie, who has lived in southern Nevada for 25 years, said she was happy to trade dusty or smoky air for an ocean breeze, even as their new homes are threatened by a hurricane. At least the water won’t be a problem.


She expects their move to be permanent.


As for Richard Luciano, whose frustrations with finding a home trigger a move to Pennsylvania, he gives up his residence in Nevada but will not be a complete stranger. His elderly parents remain in Las Vegas, renting a condo that Luciano said was overpriced and hard to find.


“It’s not like I’m not going to visit,” he said. “I won’t own anything here. “


Jackie Valley is a reporter for The Nevada Independent, a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit news organization. This
the story was first published on September 26 and is republished here with permission. For more information on Nevada, visit The Nevada Independent.


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