By Catherine Reagor| November 03rd, 2019
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Metro Phoenix home prices hit a new record this year.

Valley rents are climbing to new records almost every month.

Incomes aren’t keeping pace, and more people are getting squeezed out of homes as evictions set records too.

The number of people living without shelter in the Phoenix area has jumped 200% since 2014.

Metro Phoenix residents are dealing with the region’s worst housing affordability crunch.

The Arizona Housing Coalition’s annual meeting in Phoenix last week was packed with housing advocates trying to help a growing number of struggling renters vie for a dwindling supply of affordable homes.

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

Tackling the growing problem

The Arizona Community Foundation kicked off its “Courage to Listen, Learn and Act series on affordable housing” at the state housing meeting.

Creating affordable housing isn’t easy. The projects typically require various sources of funding, more services for tenants and must compete for land with the Valley’s many new upscale apartment projects.

As housing prices rise faster than income, Phoenix's residents face challenges

The gap between what Phoenix-area residents earn and what they pay for housing is growing and putting the squeeze on many.

Elisa de la Vara, chief community officer with the community foundation, said Arizona’s efforts to tackle the affordable housing problem are now coming from all sectors —foundations, nonprofits, government and business.

The foundation’s revolving fund offering no-interest loans to help developers launch affordable housing projects has helped create 2,900 homes in Arizona during the past decade.

This year, the foundation began helping support the Arizona Housing Fund. The voluntary program to fund more affordable housing asks home buyers, builders and real estate agents to donate $25 when they close on a home sale.

“The Housing Fund is a very unique concept that sets Arizona apart from other parts of the country,” de la Vera said. “I haven’t heard of anywhere else where the private sector is taking such a proactive role to engage the real estate community and home buyers and sellers in helping others afford homes.”

Scottsdale-based Meritage is the first home builder to volunteer for the fund. It has set aside $25,000 to match each of its Arizona home buyers' $25 contributions for a few years. 

“This is a way private industry can tackle a huge social problem for our city and region,” said Steve Hilton, CEO of Meritage. “It’s a game changer our community needs for affordable housing.”

“Close on your home and get someone closer to home” is the slogan for the fund that supporters hope will raise $100 million for affordable housing in the next 10 to 15 years. 

Better housing lowers health care costs

Arizona’s largest Medicaid provider, United Healthcare, recently loaned $20 million to the nonprofit Chicanos Por La Causa to renovate a 500-unit apartment complex in Maryvale. About 70 of the apartments were set aside for people who were homeless and had medical needs.

Suzanne Pfister, CEO of Phoenix-based Vitalyst Health Foundation, said the health care costs of patients in those 70 apartments dropped by 55 percent, and many are moving to other apartments in the complex and now need less help with rent.

“Health is much more than health care, it’s housing and safety too,” Pfister told attendees at the housing conference. “Affordable housing developers are seeing how wrap-around care helps in a real way.”

Pfister, who also co-chairs the housing and homelessness committee for Greater Phoenix Leadership, said other Arizona insurers and hospitals are now working together to create funds to build more affordable housing that offer health care help too.

The new partnerships were also discussed at an Urban Land Institute Arizona meeting on affordable housing last week, another sign more groups are getting involved to tackle the problem.

Arizona government steps up help

Arizona lawmakers gave the state’s housing trust fund a $15 million boost this year, six times as much as it had received for affordable housing since 2010.

But the increase isn’t permanent, and that move is one of housing advocates next priorities.

“Only $2.5 million a year to help the homeless and provide affordable housing in Arizona doesn’t do a lot,” said Mike Trailor, the former head of the Arizona Housing Department and Department of Economic Security. 

He recently moved to Gov. Doug Ducey’s office of Youth, Faith and Family to focus on the state’s efforts to fight homelessness.

He said the housing trust fund — funded by unclaimed property in the state — needs to be restored to $30 million, as it was a decade ago before the Great Recession.

Projects funded by the $15 million this year include several new affordable housing developments statewide for seniors, veterans and people who need homes with 24-hour behavioral health treatments.

Housing advocates also are working to create an Arizona tax credit to fund more affordable housing. A federal tax credit already helps fund many of the developments, but other states have passed legislation to create their own tax credits to help get more of the much needed housing.

“We are at a tipping point in Arizona,” Trailor said. “We are not where San Diego, Seattle or San Francisco is for housing, but we will be there if we don’t get ahead of this.”

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

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