By Tom Simplot & Howard Epstein
People are flocking to Arizona. Our limitless opportunities for businesses, families, and young professionals combined with our unparalleled quality of life has transformed Arizona. But one consequence of growth is the impact it is having on housing.
A recent Phoenix Business Journal article detailed the steady flow of people moving to Arizona and the resulting increases in home prices and rent. According to data from the Arizona Regional Multiple Listing Service, the median home price in Maricopa County rose to $450,000 in July, compared to $350,000 a year prior. And the average Phoenix-area renter is paying $1,320 a month, according to Phoenix-based ABI Multifamily. That leaves hundreds of families — single mothers with children, veterans, those suffering from mental illness — unable to afford a home of their own. The list of undesirable options includes sleeping on friend’s couches, living out of cars, lining up for a bed in an overflowing shelter, or worst-case scenario, a tent on the street.
According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, our state has a shortage of 136,000 affordable housing units for extremely low-income renters. Many of these households are severely cost burdened, meaning they spend more than 50% of their income on housing, forgoing other necessities like healthy food and health care, because they simply can’t afford it. The threat of eviction for these folks is a strong reality, especially with the moratorium on evictions having been lifted.
So who are these low-income renters? According to the NLIHC, 38% of them are in the labor force (just not making enough money to afford market rate rents), another 28% are seniors, and 19% are disabled. You’ve heard the term “vulnerable populations” and that is exactly who we are talking about.
As the head of the Arizona Department of Housing and the founder of the Arizona Housing Fund, we are working to ensure that both the government and the private sector step up and help address this situation now, while we are still in a position to do something about it. An all-hands-on-deck approach is the best way to ensure we don’t end up with a homelessness problem like we are seeing in cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles.
Not only is funding more affordable housing the right thing to do – it is also less expensive than doing nothing. A study conducted by ASU’s well-respected Morrison Institute for Public Policy showed it costs less to build permanent, supportive housing for people with chronic mental illness than paying the costs associated with their homelessness. Stable housing slashes the high price tag associated with continual emergency room visits, police interactions and incarceration. The research report, “Housing is Health Care: The Impact of Supportive Housing on the Costs of Chronic Mental Illness” lays out the cost benefits of permanent supportive housing.
The right thing to do
How can the private sector help get Arizona’s housing crisis under control?
Companies and individuals can make tax deductible donations to the Arizona Housing Fund at arizonahousingfund.org. One hundred percent of every dollar donated goes toward providing funding to Arizona nonprofits to build and operate more permanent, supportive, low-income, and working poor housing.
Residential and commercial real estate companies and agents can join the Arizona Housing Fund Escrow Donation Program and contribute $25 or more for residential sales and $100 for commercial sales. We count homebuilders, title companies, mortgage companies, real estate agencies and commercial brokerages among our partners.
Arizona companies large and small are benefiting from the economic boom taking place. We want to ask our business community to consider the future of our cities and towns – the very same cities and towns they call home. We are only as strong as our weakest link, and there is absolutely no reason why some of our fellow Arizonans should be living unsheltered.
Simply put, it’s the right thing to do. And if we all step up and do our part, Arizona’s communities will be even better places to live. Get involved at arizonahousingfund.org.
Tom Simplot is the director of the Arizona Department of Housing and will be a featured speaker at SAAR’s Fair Housing Symposium in February 2022.
Howard Epstein is the founder of the Arizona Housing Fund.
First appeared in the Phoenix Business Journal.