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Sedona is trying to create safe place for workers to sleep in their cars. Not everyone is happy

Sedona's longtime housing crisis is coming to a head this week. 

Sedona’s City Council voted Tuesday to create an area where people can sleep in their cars at night legally. It’s meant to help the growing number of people who work in the tourist town but can’t afford to live there. Many have chosen to live in their cars. 

From short-term rentals taking away housing stock, to high interest rates to limited building, Sedona’s housing problem is multipronged. According to Zillow, the average price of a home in Sedona is now more than $930,000. 

The Safe Place to Park program passed the City Council, but many residents are not happy about it. One resident has already taken out the paperwork to file a referendum on the issue, sending it to the ballot for voters to decide in November. 

The Show spoke with Shannon Boone, Sedona's housing manager, about the city's decision. 

Interview highlights

SHANNON BOONE: So the Safe Place to Park program was designed to provide a legal parking area and necessary amenities like temporary toilet showers and trash receptacles for locally employed people who live in their vehicles.

Tell us more about the situation that led to this. It's designed for people who work in Sedona but cannot afford to live there. Is this a significant population? Is this a problem you see often?

BOONE: Certainly. Affordable housing has been a challenge in Sedona for a long time, but the the cost of property keep going up. We aren't able to restrict short-term rentals in any way. And about 17% of our housing stock has converted to short term rental, eliminating a lot of our local housing. We're working to build housing, but it's it's a little tough right now for developers, they're struggling in this economic environment. Lending has tightened up on multifamily housing. The cost to build in Sedona is high compared to other places around the state. So it's really just been a challenge to bring housing to the market fast enough. So we thought that this temporary program would be a strategy that could help these folks who are choosing to live in their vehicles.

Tell us about some of those stories. I'm sure you've talked to these folks. What do they say?

BOONE: A lot of different things. Everyone's situation seems to be unique, but mostly that if they had to choose between their home and their car, they figured they would choose their car. So they would still have mobility. Sedona is not especially walkable, just as an example.

You know, there's a business owner who has lived in town most of his adult life. His home was sold to become a short-term rental and he was, you know, consequently evicted because of that and couldn't find any place for the same price that he was paying and opted to live in his vehicle. You know, they say it's really difficult to find parking spaces. We used to have forest land where you could sleep overnight, much closer to the city. But the forest has restricted some of the parking near the city. Now, it's just increasingly hard for them to find places to go. It's not legal to sleep in your vehicle on a city street or in the park or anything like that. So just trying to give these folks a legal option. So they're not sort of trying, trying to find a place to hide every night.

But this was met with some significant opposition from residents who were worried about this. What did they have to say? What are the concerns?

BOONE: Some of the residents I think have some misconceptions. They refer to it as an encampment even though there would be no camping allowed, no tents, no canopies, no setup. It's an in-and-out daily program. So no one would establish any kind of residency. But people equate it to a homeless encampment and they say, "Oh, you won't control it. It'll grow." And things like that, even though we have 40 designated spaces and you have to register for the program. I think it's just a lot of fear. And then there's a group that wants to see the land where the temporary program is proposed return to its historic use as an amphitheater. The city has committed to a long-term public input process on that land. So we know that we wouldn't break ground on whatever the final use is within the next couple of years, which is why this program was proposed to be temporary, so that it would still allow the redevelopment of that site.

So you've mentioned that this program will be temporary kind of while the city works towards some more permanent housing solutions. But at the beginning there, you outlined a lot of the challenges that the city faces in creating more affordable housing, in lowering prices and controlling short-term rentals — which you're not able to control because of a state law. What are the options on the table? There's criticism that there's not enough building and not enough development in Sedona. What can you do?

BOONE: We can build, and we can develop. We do have projects in the works with developers. We have more than 500 units in pre-development right now, but none of those have yet broken ground. So we we know we're going to have this lag time and really need the housing today. Currently, we have about six projects that are in pre-development. So the developers are actively working to bring these projects together. Four of them, they have preliminary plans, they're ready to move forward. It's difficult for them to get all the funding and financing that they need. Despite city subsidy available for almost every project, it's just not enough to, to be able to build the projects right now.

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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.