By Catherine Reagor| February 09th, 2020
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Arizona needs at least 100,000 apartments or houses that people living and working in the state can afford.

And the homes are needed now.  

Last week, 400 people living in tents and sleeping bags around downtown Phoenix’s crowded Human Services Campus had to move. There’s no room for them inside.

Temporary homes for metro Phoenix's growing homeless population are needed, along with more permanent housing for people living in shelters to move into.

Federal funding is the main tool for building more affordable housing in Arizona.

Now, about $200 million a year in federal tax credits adds 1,500 to 2,000 affordable homes across the state, said Carol Ditmore, director of the Arizona Department of Housing.

“It’s not nearly enough money, and it doesn’t go far enough,” she said. “We are looking for the private market to step up, and thankfully are seeing a lot of interest and support there.”

Tackling Arizona's housing problem

Metro Phoenix’s growing affordability problem is increasingly a priority for not only housing advocates but business and government leaders. 

On Wednesday, when hundreds of people living outside Arizona’s biggest homeless shelter were moved, more than 100 Valley leaders met a few miles away to figure out ways to build more affordable housing quickly.

Home prices and rents have climbed much faster than incomes in metro Phoenix during the past decade. That mismatch has created a housing crunch for a growing number of people.

Those looking for the most affordable homes are being squeezed out and end up living in cars, tents, parking lots and in front of homeless shelters that are full.

“For every 100 Arizona households earning 50% of the median income, there are 45 rental units available and not occupied by someone with a higher income,” said Christopher Ptomey, executive director of Urban Land Institute’s Terwilliger Center for Housing.

He spoke to a packed room at the ULI Arizona Health, Equity & Housing Solutions meeting in Phoenix on Wednesday.

More than a roof

“If people can afford a safe home, then they can focus on buying healthy food, taking their children to the doctor and to school and pay for prescriptions," said C.J. Eisenbarth Hager, a director at Vitalyst Health Foundation and co-chair of the Arizona ULI task force on Health, Equity and Housing.

“When people can afford their rent, they have more income, stability and less stress for a better life,” she said.

  • About 45% of metro Phoenix renters pay more than 30% of their income for a home, according to a new study from Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University. 
  • Housing costs above 30% of a household’s income are considered unaffordable because there’s not enough money left for food, health care, transportation and education.
  • To afford a modest two-bedroom rental in Maricopa County, a family needs to earn $42,000 a year or $20 an hour.
  • A typical housekeeper in metro Phoenix would need to make another $16,000 a year to afford that home, according to ULI.
  • A two-income household with people working as a home health care-aid and a delivery truck driver would need to earn $6,000 more a year to buy a median-priced home.

The mismatch between incomes and housing costs in Arizona isn’t going away, Eisenbarth Hager said.

What is being done? 

ULI and other key Valley groups including Greater Phoenix Leadership, Phoenix Community Alliance and the Arizona Community Foundation are working on funding programs and plans to more quickly build more affordable housing.

The Arizona Housing Fund was launched last year to 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.

Government can help. One way is to restore the Arizona Housing Trust fund money. Last year, the fund to build homeless shelters and affordable housing got a one-time bump to $15 million.

But before 2009, the state’s housing trust fund had nearly $40 million in state dollars. A $2.5 million cap was placed on the fund in 2010 because of state budget shortfalls.

Legislation has been introduced to ramp up the housing fund again.

Another bill for a state-tax credit, similar to what 12 other states use to fund affordable housing, is in the works.

Arizona housing advocates rallied at the state Capitol on Thursday for the legislation to help people struggling to find and afford homes.

It was another packed room of people trying to help with Arizona’s housing crunch.

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

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