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Affording a home in Phoenix is getting harder for middle-class singles

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the noun phrase, “The American dream,” as “a happy way of living that is thought of by many Americans as something that can be achieved by anyone in the U.S. especially by working hard and becoming successful.” 

However, does this idea of the American dream still exist in Arizona? 

Lorri Chase is a 52-year-old middle-class, single woman who has lived in Glendale, Arizona, since 1972. She works in a medical research facility as a receptionist. 

“I love what I do. I love working with people. And I currently have, I think, the best job in my career,” Chase said.

However, Chase has struggled in the current housing market. She lives in a 600-square-foot apartment and said that she would like to continue to rent, rather than buy. Unfortunately, Chase said her rent just increased 22%, and she is not sure how she’s going to stay afloat. 

“Heck, I could even end up living in my car if I'm not careful,” Chase said.

Chase makes just enough money to not qualify for some of the help that lower-class individuals may qualify for — but she makes just little enough to worry about cutting all expenses and getting second and third jobs to relieve stress. 

To continue to afford her rent, Chase started selling Tupperware and has plans to drive Uber. But this isn't a move she anticipates.

“But where's the quality of life? Essentially, I'll be paying $1,100 to come home and go to bed to wake up and leave."

Chase personally doesn’t believe the American dream exists anymore.

“The American dream is gone for me. Thankfully, I had an incredible childhood," Chase said. "My parents, you know, they had one income because my mother was handicapped ... and they managed to keep a beautiful home, food on the table. I never wanted. I never knew if times were tight. And I can't imagine having a family in this environment."

A report by 24/7 Wall Street stated that incomes are rising rapidly in Arizona for the wealthiest 20%, while middle-class household incomes have remained stagnant. Household income is the combined gross income of all members in a household at a working age. For example, if someone earns $40,000 a year teaching, and her husband earns $70,000 in construction, their combined family income is $110,000. If they have a roommate whose income is $50,000 a year, their household income is $160,000. 

According to Tina Tamboer, a senior housing analyst for the Cromford Report, when looking at household incomes versus affordability, there’s assumed to be two incomes per home.

“It's a lot easier for a couple to purchase,” Tamboer said.

This could be a stay-at-home mom or dad while the other person is working. Either way, housing analysts look for two working-age adults in the household in terms of affordability — whether they’re both working or not. 

However, according to the Pew Research Center, there are now more people living alone and not getting married. Tamboer said the increase in singles will affect affordability. 

To look at a median income in terms of affordability, the home opportunity index from Housing and Urban Development states 79,000 as the median, meaning 50% make more than that, and 50% make less. 

“So in greater Phoenix at 79,000, that means that you can afford $1,843 a month,” Tamboer said.

But median income is not matching up with median home prices and mortgage payments.

“In greater Phoenix, you're looking at a median of about 410,000. And your payment is right around like $1,977 a month," Tamboer said.

Rent and home prices are continuing to rise, further widening the gap. For those who are looking to buy a home with one income, Tamboer wasn't optimistic.

“The whole concept of being able to afford a home just on a single income is probably not necessarily the best expectation in today's market."

Katie Gentry, who works for the Maricopa Association of Governments as a human services planner, said she spends most of her day trying to figure out how they can get better as a system. 

She explained that a large reason for unaffordability and an increase in home prices is due to supply and demand. A report released by the state of Arizona says that we are short of 505,000 housing units, based on population.

“There are developers trying to attack this, city governments are trying to attack this ... but how can you build 505,000 units in a year's time or even five years' time?" Gentry said.

In 2008, Arizona had overproduction compared to population. Then the recession hit, and the state went to a sharp decline. In 2021, Arizona finally got to the same rate of building as 2008, but for the last 12 years, the shortage has accumulated, causing the state to have to work faster to get on top of it. 

“We have really expensive land prices here. We have really expensive buildings because of shortages across the country and across the world, and so these barriers are getting sharper and sharper, and it's making it difficult to overcome how far we are behind,” Gentry said.

However, Gentry said she doesn’t believe the American dream is dead for Arizonans.

“I would say, if your dream is to own a home, it's still attainable, although it's getting harder and harder.”

This story was adapted from the original  Hear Arizona podcast series UnAffordable ,now available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Madison Mulvihill, formerly Cerro, is an assistant digital editor at KJZZ and the Division of Public Service. She also works as a podcast producer for Hear Arizona, KJZZ's podcasting initiative.She graduated from Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication in 2020. At ASU, Mulvihill worked as an audio reporter for Cronkite News–Arizona PBS where she put together flash briefings for smart devices, feature stories and podcasts. On occasion, Mulvihill would also host and produce shows. Many of her audio stories were picked up and aired on several local radio stations, including KJZZ.Before Mulvihill’s experience as an audio reporter, she worked as an intern for RightThisMinute: The Viral Video Show. Mulvihill’s responsibilities included working with producers to find content for the show — as well as working as part of the web team to write digital stories and promote viral video content.Mulvihill also worked on the content team at Discount Tire Co., where she wrote overviews for hundreds of store locations and created product descriptions. Mulvihill believes the marketing and content writing skills she gained at Discount Tire are an important addition to her skills in journalism.In addition, Mulvihill has written many stories for local newspapers — several of which made the front page. She loves all facets of journalism and knows that her experience in different positions has allowed her to become a well-rounded journalist.She believes in the power and importance of journalism, trying new things and doing all things with kindness.Mulvihill lives in Scottsdale with her husband, Richard, and her pet snake, Sir Hiss. In her spare time, she loves to put her creativity to work making crafts or working on DIY projects.