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These housing bills are finding support in divided AZ Legislature

Housing is one of the most serious issues facing lawmakers at the Arizona Capitol this session. The average cost of a home in the Valley is up from $275,000 in 2020 to $429,000 today, according to Redfin. The average rent in Phoenix is a little over $1,500 a month today, for an 800-square-foot apartment, according to RentCafe. And we just don’t have enough housing to meet the demand as more people move to the Valley all the time. 

And it all matters enough to voters that there just might be enough common ground among lawmakers to make some changes. 

KJZZ’s Camryn Sanchez is following it all down at 1700 W. Washington St., and she joined The Show to tell us more. 

Interview highlights

Arizona Starter Homes Act

LAUREN GILGER: Yeah. OK. So let's talk about what's on the table now that we're this far into the session. And I want to start with what lawmakers have dubbed the Arizona Starter Homes Act. This seems like the biggest, probably piece of legislation on this front. What does it include?

CAMRYN SANCHEZ: Well, a lot of things, but I think the most important part is that it would preempt municipalities, cities, towns, from home design requirements. So, you know, if I'm building a house and I want to have the, the shingles made out of asphalt instead of ceramics or whatever, this would say that the government can't stop me from doing that. I can make my own choices when it comes to little things, if I want a fence versus a wall, if I want, you know, a porch or no porch. And there are other little provisions, like you can't require someone to live in an HOA you know. Residents can still form their own HOAs, but it's, it's very much about reducing the role of local government in dictating decisions when it comes to home building.

Converting commercial properties into apartments

GILGER: Yeah. OK. There's also an effort to give developers the right to convert commercial properties into apartments. Who's backing that one?

SANCHEZ: Some legislative Republicans. Again, I think the [League of Arizona Cities and Towns] is opposed to that one. It's, it's one of a series of measures that are sort of pocket into individual bills. So there's one to create more duplexes and triplexes. There is one that's another bipartisan effort that would increase the supply of accessory dwelling units, which are like casitas mother-in-law suites, little houses. And then there's one that would narrow municipal licensing requirement time frames. So you have to approve a project or say no to it in a certain amount of days, you can't just leave the person hanging for years on it, you know, at a time.

Housing tax credit program expansion

GILGER: OK. So let's talk about a few of the measures on the other end of the spectrum. First, there's HB 2576. This would expand Arizona's low income housing tax credit program. This is bipartisan. Where does this stand?

SANCHEZ: That idea has been, has some traction. I think it's not dead. I think that it's, it's a little bit scary for some lawmakers making big changes, is difficult for, you know, established lawmakers to swallow. And again, I think there's concern from municipalities.

Eviction relief

GILGER: OK, let's talk then about evictions, there's at least one bipartisan bill to give people who are being evicted. At least some more information about legal aid, right? Tell us about this one.

SANCHEZ: Yeah, I think there were quite a few more homelessness related bills, bills to sort of protect people from going out onto the street and to provide funding for homeless shelters and services. Mostly those were sponsored by Democrats, and mostly they haven't gotten anywhere but that, that particular issue. I've heard good things, you know, no one wants people to be evicted, obviously. But then of course, landlords tend, you know, they want their own protections, they don't want to be saddled with people who are not going to pay rent, who are just going to be squatters. So it's a, it's a balance.

Short-term rentals

GILGER: Last quick question for you, about short-term rentals. Any effort to regulate those this time around?

SANCHEZ: Plenty of effort, but not so much traction. So I think there were at least 34 or 35 bills that would have regulated STRS, that's like Airbnbs, Verbos. But it, it is not successful, and it's interesting because that's something that people have been asking for for the past five-plus years. In a lot of communities, big corporations will come in and build up, buy up all the housing supply and turn it into the short-term rentals and make a profit, which makes sense. But then for people who want to live there permanently, there's, you know, there's less housing and there's fewer neighborhoods because it's just like a, you know, a stream of visiting people, having parties and having fun.

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Lauren Gilger, host of KJZZ's The Show, is an award-winning journalist whose work has impacted communities large and small, exposing injustices and giving a voice to the voiceless and marginalized.