By Catherine Reagor| September 09th, 2019
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One of the great things about metro Phoenix has long been its affordability. 

Home prices and rents aren’t cheap, though the Valley is still relatively affordable compared with other big cities.

I love when my younger friends and co-workers get excited about buying a home or renting the first apartment they can afford on their own.

But home prices and rents have soared in the Phoenix area, and it’s a lot tougher for many to buy or rent now.

No one wants to see metro Phoenix’s growing affordable housing problem turn into a housing crisis as it has in big cities such as San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York.

It’s why housing advocates and the real-estate industry are banding together to raise money for affordable housing, and Arizona lawmakers gave the state’s housing trust fund a $15 million boost this year.

“I have never been this hopeful about help for affordable housing and homelessness in Arizona,” said Sheila Harris, founder of the Arizona Housing Department.

Homebuyers can help

To help the many people struggling to find a home they can afford, a voluntary program just launched to collect $25 from Arizona homebuyers to fund the development of more affordable rental housing.

The Arizona Housing Fund will collect donations from homebuyers, who can contribute when they close escrow; homebuilders and real estate agents, who can match their buyers’ donations; as well as money from anyone who wants to help people struggling to find a home in the state.

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Howard Epstein, a board member of the nonprofit Arizona Housing Inc. and an executive with Bank of America, came up with the grass-roots effort to ask the real-estate industry to help fund a solution to the state’s growing affordable-housing problem.

He hopes it can raise $100 million in the next 10 to 15 years. 

The new fund has already drawn support from the Arizona Community Foundation, homebuilders, real-estate agents and government and business leaders.

Scottsdale-based Meritage Homes has committed $25,000 to match its homebuyers’ contributions.

Help from Legislature

Arizona lawmakers funded the state’s Housing Trust fund with $15 million in June. It’s the state’s biggest investment in a decade to help people struggling to afford homes and provide shelter for people who are homeless.

Plans for the money are still being finalized but could be announced this week. Of course, many housing groups are vying for the money.

Before the Great Recession of 2009, Arizona’s housing trust – funded by unclaimed property in the state – totaled $40 million. But in 2010, when the state’s budget took a hit with the economy, a $2.5 million cap was put on the fund.

So the $15 million allotted to affordable housing this year is a much needed boost.

Rents and home prices outpace incomes

Metro Phoenix rents in the past year have jumped higher than anywhere besides Las Vegas.

Now, nearly half of Valley renters pay more than 30 percent of their incomes for housing. That’s not good, since they also have to cover food, transportation and health-care costs.

And while the Valley’s median home price has climbed more than 45 percent since 2013, the median household income increased by about 15 percent.

The data shows there’s no denying metro Phoenix has a growing affordable housing problem.

But the recent big efforts offer hope.

 Reach the reporter at [email protected] or 602-444-8040. Follow her on Twitter @Catherinereagor.

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