One of the biggest threats to the future of cities across Arizona and the nation is the lack of affordable housing.
Healthy cities need balance in their housing options, from affordable to workforce to market-rate choices, to foster environments of culture, diversity and opportunity.
The lack of balance in many places has been made more acute during the current public health crisis.
Hiring and keeping staff, for example, has become a critical issue for employers. I recently met with nearly a dozen Tempe hotel managers who expressed an urgent need for affordable, nearby places to live for their employees.
Financial institutions are stepping up
It is going to take an all-out effort and coordinated approach from all levels of government and the private sector to meet today’s demand and ensure families have quality, affordable housing options.
People are just trying to survive another day. It is our responsibility as a community to help them thrive.
Financial institutions are coming up with innovative solutions to offer assistance.
For example, the Wells Fargo Foundation recently announced it is providing nearly $11 million in additional grant funding to seven legal-aid organizations across the country and a dozen housing counseling agencies to help keep people housed, including in Arizona.
In 2021 the foundation provided nearly $1.4 million in support in Arizona for affordable housing initiatives, including housing counseling, assisting the homeless and supporting homeownership in minority communities.
If we are to find sustainable solutions, we need more private sector participation like that.
Development fees are generating cash to help
Nonprofit housing counselors have become essential to help families survive housing issues that have been exacerbated during the pandemic. These organizations have helped homeowners and renters navigate available federal and state housing assistance. They have also independent advice on foreclosure prevention, credit issues, debt management and long-term financial health.
I can tell you firsthand how important stable and affordable housing is to ensure a thriving community and a secure workforce. It is no secret that housing has a multiplier effect across the local economy and without leadership on the issue, the road ahead is going to be bumpy.
That is why our City Council unanimously approved the Hometown for All initiative in January.
For every development project built in Tempe, an amount equivalent to 50% of certain permitting fees paid to the city are directed from the general fund to the Tempe Coalition for Affordable Housing, a nonprofit corporation affiliated with Tempe Public Housing Authority.
In less than a year we have generated $6 million from fees and voluntary contributions from local developers. That money will be used to build or purchase much-needed affordable housing in our city.
Addressing eviction, adding affordable units will help
The urban centers of Arizona’s largest cities were already becoming unaffordable before COVID-19 struck. Targeted public policy and support for local organizations providing housing counseling and renter stabilization has benefits beyond today’s public health emergency.
Recent studies show up to 40 million renters across the United States have been impacted by the pandemic-related economic downturn and could face eviction, and nearly 40% of Arizona households are at risk.
Boosting assistance from these organizations and increasing the inventory of affordable housing will make a real difference.
I was pleased to support recent action by the Arizona Legislature as it established an innovative public-private partnership that creates the state’s own housing tax credit over the next 10 years.
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That is a start.
More must be done to relieve the pressure on Arizona families and the City of Tempe is eager to be part of the solution.
Corey Woods is Tempe mayor. Reach him at Corey_Woods@tempe.gov.
AUTHOR: Corey Woods