Arizona Talks: Housing
Join us Thursday, April 28 for a night of drinks and conversation as we welcome experts and policymakers who will share their views on what is causing the worsening housing crisis in Arizona and what can be done to address the issue.
Background on the Issue
A report was published which listed the top twenty cities in the United States for average rent increase in 2021. Of those twenty, six cities were in Arizona—four of them were in the top ten—and all of those cities experienced an average rent increase of more than twenty-five percent.
In the Phoenix metro area, average home prices increased 38.82% from the end of 2020 to the end of 2021. In Arizona, unlike in most other states, the number of homeless veterans in shelters increased by ten percent in 2021, and this was widely attributed to the increased cost of housing.
Concerned about the rising cost of housing, politicians, candidates, and advocacy groups have called for everything from donating to housing funds to imposing rent control.
Proposal: By-Right Zoning
In February of this year, Republican State Representative Steve Kaiser and Democratic State Representative César Chávez sent shockwaves through the Arizona political world when they introduced House Bill 2674, which would establish a “by right” system of zoning in Arizona, preempting municipal zoning and design standards for homes and apartments.
Under the bill, any land zoned agricultural or single-family residential would automatically be entitled to building up to eight homes to the acre or a dozen duplexes. Land zoned agricultural or multifamily would be automatically entitled to at least four-story apartment or condo buildings. The bill would also put more money into the Arizona Department of Housing Trust Fund.
The purpose of the bill is to streamline zoning regulations and make housing more affordable and curb homelessness. Advocating for his bill, Representative Kaiser said, “We need a statewide response to this crisis. The demand for housing has never been higher. Occupancy rates are at 98%, which is a 40-year high.”
Critics of this approach have called the bill legislative overreach and have cast it as a threat to Arizonans’ lifestyles. Tucson Mayor Regina Romero warned, “Expect tall apartment complexes popping up in the middle of neighborhoods throughout your city if this bill becomes law.” Peoria Mayor Cathy Carlat called it “extreme.” Maricopa Mayor Christian Price said that the bill “would lead to an absolute free for all of chaos and insanity.” Queen Creek Town Councilmember Jeff Brown told his constituents to write legislators and express their concerns that the bill would result in “massive potential increase in population.”
Supporters of the idea say that there is a market need for smaller homes on smaller lots with minimal external maintenance requirements and that current zoning rules are preventing this demand from being met.
Arizona Republic columnist Robert Robb noted, “Cities are unlikely to respond to the unmet demand for more affordable housing by loosening zoning and design standards to accommodate it. This is in part a function of local NIMBYism, not in my backyard. And in part reaching for an aspirational character, being Scottsdale and not Maryvale.”
Others had a more nuanced response. A spokesperson for the Urban Phoenix Project said that the bill was “not the right path as written,” expressing hope for a solution led by the cities themselves, but offered, “Denser development is fiscally conservative and environmentally friendly. You serve more people with less infrastructure (pipes, wires and streets) and you encroach less on unspoiled nature. Current zoning is wildly restrictive. The densest single-family only zoning in Phoenix requires you to build less densely than most of the existing central Phoenix neighborhoods.”
Proposal: Rent Control
In March, State Senator Martin Quezada, who represents Arizona’s Legislative District 29, introduced a bill, SB 1587, that would cap rent increases yearly at 5% plus the cost of inflation or 10%, whichever is lower.
Currently, rent control on a local level is not possible in Arizona because of state statute 33-1329 that says that “cities or towns shall not have the power to control rents.” Arizona State Representative Christian Solorio, who represents Arizona’s Legislative District 30, introduced HB 2401 in an attempt to repeal this law, but the bill never got a hearing.
Some proponents of rent control believe that while previous efforts have failed, recent changes in the housing market might mean that the timing is now right for this kind of proposal to succeed.