Candidate question #7: What are the best steps to address housing in Flagstaff | elections
DAILY SUN STAFF
Flagstaff mayoral and city council candidates have been given the chance to answer a weekly question in no more than 150 words. This week’s question: How will you work to implement the 10-year housing plan, and are there other steps Flagstaff should be taking to address affordable housing?
For Council, Austin Aslan and Lori Matthews qualified for the ballot; the others are official write-in candidates. Thea Karlin and Sydney Shevat withdrew from consideration this week.
Lack of affordable housing is negatively impacting our community. New fire and police recruits are struggling to find places to live as they start their careers, teachers are forced into the painful decision of whether they can stay in Flagstaff, and employers can’t hold on to staff. As an example, 58% of respondents to a recent survey said they were somewhat likely to nearly certainly going to leave town because of housing costs.
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The 10-year housing plan contains nearly 60 strategies that are tailored to address Flagstaff’s housing issues. One critical strategy is support for Prop 442 on November’s ballot. This bond will provide essential funding to projects ranging from affordable rentals to homeownership—without raising property tax rates.
As 65% of all Flagstaff households are low-to-moderate-income, it’s also important that we focus economic development efforts on jobs that pay a wage that supports living and working in Flagstaff.
The 10-year Housing Plan includes amending the Flagstaff Zoning Code to facilitate the development of all housing types. It takes unnecessarily long to get through the permitting process. In recognition of this, we voted to remove the CUP for developments that are 100% affordable units, removing months of lag time. There is still a substantial amount of code changes to do.
There are 60 strategies to address the housing crisis, and we must thoroughly evaluate their application to Flagstaff. Most importantly, it is critical we ensure information is effectively communicated to the public to receive residents’ input.
In addition, we need to license and monitor short-term rentals in our community, particularly those disaffecting neighborhoods. Recently, the state legislature and Governor Ducey loosened restrictions on cities establishing these policies. Council will be holding a work session to receive public input and potentially move forward in developing a licensing system in October.
We need to attract more businesses to Flagstaff beyond hospitality. But we also need to support our local business community; hospitality as well as other locally owned businesses and find ways to help them keep their doors open. Be advocates not adversaries. We will forever be discussing the lack of affordable housing if our citizens don’t have the ability to generate an income that meets Flagstaff’s cost of living. Flagstaff needs to work with state legislators and ask for help in attracting more industry to Flagstaff and bring in competitive job opportunities for all skillsets. NAU has a great cyber security school. We should work with NAU to attract cyber security companies to Flagstaff. Subsidies and entitlements are paid through taxation. Its not free money. We will further the wealth inequity gap if we think we can tax our way out of our housing issues.
We must work aggressively to combat our housing emergency. The 10-year housing plan identifies that Flagstaff is 7,976 units undersupplied. We aim to build or preserve at least that many housing units by 2031. But I fought hard during the drafting of the plan to specify we can’t just build any old houses. Our effort to free up pressure on Flagstaff’s housing stock can’t simply be a windfall for home builders and construction outfits. Units must be targeted across the housing continuum so that prospective homeowners and renters can transition through the spectrum of dwelling types between homelessness and homeownership—and to ensure we’re not just building second homes for Phoenicians trying to escape the heat. I also championed the inclusion of language that acknowledges how climate action supports lowering overall costs of living. Implementing shared solutions to both our housing and climate emergencies will lead to a stronger, healthier, and more connected Flagstaff.
My first step is to become more familiar with the plan; and to that end, I have started reading through the document. There is no doubt that I will probably read parts of it more than just once. My goal is to become very familiar with the plan. In doing so, this would better equip me to identify opportunities for collaboration and partnerships.
Our 10-year Housing Plan is a good document, but is of no use if we do not provide the resources and support to address the strategies and evaluate our progress. As council members, we are ultimately responsible so we have to work together as a council to support the implementation of Flagstaff’s 10-year Housing Plan. As for other steps, we could bring major partners in the community together to discuss what role they could play in helping to address Flagstaff’s housing emergency. This really is about “all of us”.
Having served as both Vice Chair and Chair of the City’s Housing Commission, including the drafting and adoption of the 10-Year Housing Plan, I have a vested interest in advancing affordable, attainable housing for Flagstaff. While the Housing Commission is still developing plans for Year 1 implementation, as a Councilmember I believe I have the responsibility to speak out for increased access to affordability for our community. I will work with Council and City staff to examine how we can streamline processes and examine and adapt our zoning codes reasonably and responsibly, and petition within my capacity as a Council member for increased funding for affordable housing in our community. We must get creative in seeking solutions, from forging new partnerships to understand our needs more holistically to engaging our Regional Plan and zoning codes to enable all housing types in all neighborhoods for all who choose to call Flagstaff home.
As the City implements the 10-Year Housing Plan, the goal is to substantially increase the number of available and affordable housing options for Flagstaff residents at all income levels and increase housing subsidies for our neighbors who are unable to afford housing in Flagstaff.
Leveraging existing resources, the City must seize opportunities to obtain state and federal funding for housing and housing-related infrastructure. There’s $60 million for housing trust fund in the current state budget. Included in the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act is $3 billion for a new program called Neighborhood Access and Equity Grants.
The City must be deliberate in pursuing meaningful private-public partnership to create affordable housing units. Relaxing stiff rules and regulations and speeding up the process of developing affordable housing are crucial. We need to support more projects like the tiny homes being built by Habitat for Humanity and repurposing existing motels into transitional housing.
Affordable housing. A term that has been bantered around Flagstaff for as long as I can remember. It’s not just home prices. The real cost of living here includes food, utilities, fuel, medical care and more. Flagstaff is a desirable location, therefore naturally more expensive. Every increase in taxes, fees, regulations and material costs impacts the cost of living. Properties bought and developed into expensive housing saddling students and their parents with unnecessary debt. All that does nothing for the working families of Flagstaff. What can we do to make it more affordable to live in Flagstaff? One thought is to train and educate our workers. Look to CCC, NAU, Apprenticeships and OJT to improve the marketability of the people of Flagstaff. Make them more valuable, attract businesses and pay better jobs to develop a long-term future in Flagstaff. Then we can consider subsidies and assistance to retain them.
Sean was unable to respond in time for publication.
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