Tucson is a beautiful city, rich in history, tradition, and civic pride. People who have lived here are proud of the “Old Pueblo”. We take pride in the local university (Go Cats!), beautiful sunsets, and the Sonoran desert teeming with wildlife. These are the things that give Tucson its charm and make our community unique. Unfortunately, Tucson also has one of the ten highest poverty rates of any city in the United States with a population of over 500,000 within the city limits, which causes a great need for housing that is affordable to lower-income households.
Affordable housing is defined by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development as a housing unit which costs (rent/mortgage payments, utilities and insurance) do not exceed 30% of household income. These households are often referred to as “cost-burdened”. In addition to the costs of housing, transportation costs and the lack of available mass transit opportunities near some housing units can further burden these households.
From an affordable housing point of view, the economic statistics in Tucson are a mix of good and bad:
- The Good:
- Tucson’s job growth over the past year has been 4.2%, the third highest growth rate among U.S. cities with populations of over 500,000.
- Recent data on rentjungle.com show that rents in Arizona are anywhere between $500 and $1500 cheaper than other western cities like Denver, Portland and Seattle.
- The Bad:
- Tucson has one of the ten highest poverty rates of any city in the United States with a population of over 500,000 within the city limits.
- From 2000 to 2013, rents in Tucson increased at a rate 1.5 times the corresponding increase in incomes.
- 72% of rental households in Tucson are cost-burdened.
- From 2012 to 2015, less than 10% of residential housing units built or rehabilitated in Tucson were dedicated or subsidized as affordable housing.
- According to a recent gap analysis of affordable housing in Pima County, a study which was commissioned by Family Housing Resources, Inc. (“FHR”) and performed by the University of Arizona, the number of affordable housing units available in Pima County is higher than the number of households who qualify as lower-income. However, a very high percentage of these affordable units are occupied by households that are above the lower-income threshold, a phenomenon known as “gentrification”.
- 91,000 more units of affordable housing are needed to accommodate the lower-income households not currently living in affordable housing in Tucson.
- Recent cuts in government funding for Affordable Housing have made it difficult for organizations like SALT to access the capital necessary to build new affordable units.
Tucson suffers from high levels of poverty and the resulting need for affordable housing is significant. Even though average rents are much cheaper than many other comparable cities, Tucson’s disproportionately low wages for so many make housing costs a burden. Tragically, Tucson’s children suffer the most. One in three kids inside the city limits live in poverty – and over 60 percent of children from low-income families live in cost-burdened households homes that cost more than 30 percent of the family’s monthly income.
Lower rents and more jobs will bring more tenants to Tucson – a positive development. Recently, a couple of major employers have announced plans to move a substantial portion of their operations (Caterpillar and Comcast) to Tucson – which will bring good high paying jobs to the area. According to the law of supply and demand, these new jobs will create a demand for higher paying rentals causing the market to put a natural upward pressure on rents. As rents remain comparatively low, there will also be a natural attraction to people from other areas with higher average rental rates to move to Tucson. Gradually these factors will cause rental rates in Tucson to increase – putting low-income renters in a difficult position.
Government subsidies are available to encourage landlords and developers to provide more affordable housing units and to assist tenants in paying the rents, but that only fills in a small percentage of the gap. Many low-income Tucsonans will still need affordable housing, but with less options available. Those left in the gap remain cost burdened, living in substandard conditions, or both. Often families who move to more affordable housing trade that for higher transportation costs. Nationally, 44.3 percent of working families put more than half of their household expenditures toward housing and transportation.
Cost-burdened families are left with little cash available for other basic necessities of life such as food, transportation and healthcare. The financial pressure filters down into all areas of life. Studies have shown that affordable housing can greatly improve the quality of life and has the following benefits:
- Better and more stable neighborhoods
- Reduced foreclosures and higher property values
- Increased local tax revenue
- Increased purchasing power of residents
- Less crime
- Better insurance coverage, individual health, and less trips to the doctor
- Increased educational performance
- Better and more available employees, increased access to public transit; reduced commute time
- Families with greater stability and a decreased rate of divorce
The need for affordable housing in Tucson is great and will continue to grow even as the local economy improves. Providing Safe Affordable Living in Tucson will make an immediate difference not only in the lives of individuals and families but also in communities and the city of Tucson as a whole.