New Arizona legislation to address the housing shortage and not-in-my-backyard-ism would override most city zoning requirements with less stringent ones and fund the state’s housing trust with $89 million.
The bipartisan bill, introduced Wednesday, would improve housing availability and affordability across the state, say the sponsors, Rep. Steve Kaiser, R-Phoenix, and Rep. César Chávez, D-Phoenix.
At least 270,000 additional homes are needed across the state or rents and prices will continue to soar beyond the reach of most residents, according to the Arizona Housing Department.
House Bill 2674 would create a “by-right” zoning process for apartment and single-family home developments that makes all agricultural, commercial and residential land open for new housing.
Most of that land now can only be rezoned by cities. NIMBYism and political backlash at the city level over zoning requests for higher-density housing, especially apartments, have stopped at least 30 residential developments during the past year.
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One of the apartment complexes to get shelved was a much-needed workforce housing project in Buckeye that developer Dominium finally walked away from last fall after months of pushback from neighbors and politicians.
The 24-page bill allows for higher-density housing than most metro Phoenix cities are currently approving. It would also require faster decisions on zoning changes.
The additional money for the Arizona Housing Trust Fund would come from the state’s general fund and could go toward creating more homeless shelters.
But Arizona cities are fighting the legislation, which takes away their control over zoning.
“This bill would represent the most aggressive and restrictive zoning preemptions in the country should it pass,” said René Guillen, deputy director of the League of Arizona Cities and Towns. “We are very concerned about legislation that removes decision-making from local elected leaders and their ability to ensure that development fits the needs of the community and surrounding residents.”
Mesa officials narrowly approved plans to convert a mostly vacant office building into apartments.
Supporters of the bill are expecting pushback.
“HB 2674 will effectively help to solve our massive shortfall when it comes to the state’s housing supply,” said Courtney Gilstrap LeVinus, CEO of the Arizona Multihousing Association. “Will some cities and towns oppose it, as they’ve opposed so much new construction and so many quality projects? That’s certainly possible.”
She said it would be better for the state if cities work with backers of the bill to solve the housing shortage.
The Home Builders Association of Central Arizona is also backing the bill.
“The single biggest barrier to increasing the housing supply are municipal regulations and restrictive zoning laws which impede growth,” Kaiser said.
Housing advocates say they are concerned the bill doesn’t clearly create a path for building more affordable homes.
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“I am struggling to see how this legislation drives affordable housing,” said Cynthia Zwick, executive director of Phoenix-based Wildfire, a community action group created to battle poverty. “There are no ways for cities to encourage affordable housing in the bill.”
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The legislation would allow for eight single-family homes per acre and apartment development next to transportation and employment centers as long as it meets height requirements.
It would also eliminate certain design requirements that the backers say drive up the cost of housing.
Chavez said the bill will help solve the state’s housing crisis by removing “antiquated regulatory barriers in order to build homes at a faster pace” and prove a significant investment toward helping the “state’s most vulnerable population.”
Reach the reporter at Catherine.Reagor@arizonarepublic.com or 602-444-8040. Follow her on Twitter @Catherinereagor.
AUTHOR: Catherine Reagor