How Phoenix’s Affordable Housing Plan Will Change Neighborhoods

By Christina Estes, Steve Goldstein
Published: Wednesday, June 17, 2020 - 8:10am
Updated: Wednesday, June 17, 2020 - 11:42am

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Deck Park Vista
Christina Estes/KJZZ
Deck Park Vista opened in 1992 as an affordable senior housing complex.

Phoenix leaders on Tuesday unanimously approved policy initiatives to create or preserve 50,000 affordable housing units by 2030. 

What Is Affordable Housing?

Phoenix defines affordable housing as spending no more than 30% of your monthly income on housing and utility costs. Households spending more than 30% are considered cost burdened. The city says more than 199,000 households out of 555,000 in Phoenix are housing cost burdened.

Phoenix also says 46% of households are considered either low-income, very low-income or extremely low-income and 19% are low to moderate. However, the classifications are based on the area median income used by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) which includes the metro area and not Phoenix only. When referring to the Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale metro area HUD includes Maricopa and Pinal Counties.  For a household of four, the annual range could be zero for extremely low-income up to $58,300 for low-income.

How Phoenix’s Landscape Could Change

While Phoenix has many apartment complexes, it’s predominantly a community of single family homes. And that’s going to change. 

One initiative focuses on changing zoning regulations so it’s easier and cheaper to add density. It includes adding affordable housing incentives for developers, more flexibility for infill and adaptive reuse projects and allowing secondary, smaller housing units called accessory dwelling units, on single-family lots.

Another initiative calls for creating a scoring matrix for multifamily housing projects and giving priority to projects that are near resources and amenities like light rail. In the past, some residents along the 19th Avenue rail line pushed back against what they saw as clustered affordable housing projects.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Councilmember Carlos Garcia said,  “Affordable housing is needed and it’s needed across the city.”

Developers who build affordable homes will soon find more support at city hall. Planning and Development Director Alan Stephenson told the council his office can create a team to specialize in lower income housing projects, just like they do with downtown projects.

“They could become familiar with all the requirements, help streamline things as much as possible and we think there’s some real time savings there that will help projects move forward,” he said.

Another initiative calls for redeveloping city-owned land with mixed income housing. Phoenix’s affordable housing advocate, Sherree Bouchee, said other cities have added housing to city-owned parcels that already have community and senior centers.

Changing the Language

The housing plan also contains a marketing initiative. Phoenix will create and distribute materials to spread the word about the need for different types of housing and debunk what it says are common myths about lower income housing. It includes a glossary of terms to use like affordable housing and workforce housing and terms to avoid like ‘the homeless’ and ‘transient’.

The plan includes a letter from Mayor Kate Gallego which reads in part: "Across the nation housing affordability is among the most difficult challenges facing cities. Phoenix is no exception. Ensuring that Phoenix has affordable housing options for all who desire to call our city home is a priority for the Phoenix City Council."

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