Property owners could get tax breaks for dealing with unhoused people, under GOP proposal

Republicans in the Arizona legislature want municipalities to give tax breaks to owners who spend money to mitigate problems caused by encampments of unhoused people near their property. . 

House Concurrent Resolution 2023 was approved by Feb. 28 by a party-line vote of 31-28. A mirror resolution in the Senate has not yet made it to a vote. 

“This is an important issue, as we all know homelessness has been overtaking once-beautiful cities all over this country,” the bill’s sponsor, House Speaker Ben Toma told lawmakers Feb. 27.

Toma, along with Senate President Warren Petersen, who sponsored that chamber’s version of the resolution, say that the ramifications of the homelessness crisis which impact property owners are caused by municipalities’ failure to enforce bans on public camping, loitering and public intoxication. 

“What it really boils down to is, when we have citizens who break laws, government has a lot of tools to go after citizens that don’t follow the law,” Petersen told the lawmakers on the Senate and Finance Committee during a Jan. 22 meeting. “But when our government doesn’t follow the law, or enforce the law, our citizens are limited on what they can do.” 



Toma pointed to the city of Phoenix as an example of a municipality that refused to address the crisis of homelessness within its borders, until forced through a court order. A giant homeless encampment in Phoenix, known as The Zone, had grown to encompass more than 1,000 people before a Maricopa County Superior Court judge ordered the city to remove those people by Nov. 4, 2023. After some pushback, the city complied with the order. 

Both Toma and Petersen have characterized the resolution as a way to give property owners some recourse if the municipality that is supposed to provide public safety services refuses to do so. 

“You’re not allowed to just sleep in front of a Circle K all day,” Rep. Justin Heap said during a Feb. 14 House Ways and Means Committee meeting. “The cities are not following their own ordinances and are passing the cost onto property owners.”

Heap, a Mesa Republican, voted in favor of the resolution in the committee and on the House floor. 

The resolution, submitted to Toma and Petersen by the Goldwater Institute, a libertarian advocacy group based in Phoenix, would have initially allowed property owners to apply for a property tax refund in the amount that homelessness in the area impacted the fair market value of the property, or to apply for a return to reimburse themselves for any money they personally spent to abate issues around homelessness. But after criticism from Democrats and municipalities who wondered how the decrease in property value, as caused by homelessness in the area, could possibly be determined, the House voted to amend the resolution on Feb. 27 to take the reduced property value portion out. The legislation would put the question on the November ballot for voters to decide.

But property owners would only be eligible for a refund if the municipality they live in adopts a “pattern or practice” of failing to enforce public nuisance laws. 

Jane Ahern, a lobbyist for the League of Arizona Cities and Towns, pointed out during the Feb. 14 meeting, that if this resolution becomes law, it would put cities in a difficult position. 

In 2019, long before the superior court judge ordered Phoenix to clean up The Zone, the federal Ninth Circuit Court ruled that cities in the western United States could not enforce public camping bans for unhoused people if there weren’t open shelter beds available for those people. 

“This bill is going to put cities in an impossible legal position,” Ahern said. 

The cities will have to decide to either enforce urban camping bans in violation of the Ninth District Circuit Court or risk having to give property tax refunds to business owners. 

She added that homelessness is a critical issue that calls for comprehensive and collaborative solutions. 

“Instead of addressing the shortage of shelter capacity, this bill simply threatens to drain much needed resources and expose cities to further litigation,” she said. 

During a Jan. 22 Senate committee hearing of Senate Concurrent Resolution 1006, Sen. Mitzi Epstein, D-Tempe, said that putting a change to property tax law, which is already complicated, to the voters was the wrong choice. 

“This is a really complicated tax policy that deserves our attention,” she said. 

Natalya Brown, representing the Arizona Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence, told lawmakers that this resolution could have dire consequences for victims of domestic violence. 

If local law enforcement are urged to prioritize public loitering and intoxication calls, ahead of domestic violence calls, it could put those victims at risk. 

“This will cause harm to survivors, increasing the risk of crime against them and exacerbating the trauma of the violence they face,” she said. 

Sen. Justine Wadsack, R-Tucson, who has previously said that homeless people did not deserve compassion, told her fellow lawmakers that relief for property owners was imperative not just in Phoenix, but in Tucson, as well. 

“The homeless were running rampant on businesses in Tucson, breaking windows, breaking in, coming into the businesses during work hours with machetes, threatening people’s lives, causing damage to their establishment,” she said. “And let’s not forget the feces, the urine, the needles, the mattresses on the roofs of their buildings. It’s getting to the point where people are closing their doors because they don’t have any relief for the damage that they had to incur.” 

As representatives voted on the resolution Feb. 28, Rep. Quantá Crews, a Phoenix Democrat, pointed out that the bill is not really a property tax refund. Property owners could apply for refunds and receive them, but the amount of money each municipality collects would not change, putting the rest of the taxpayers on the hook for higher bills. 

“This measure is setting everyone up to fail,” Tom Savage, representing the League of Arizona Cities and Towns, told the Senate committee on Jan. 22. “It will not solve the homelessness crisis or make homelessness encampments go away.”

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