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Arizona mayors call on Hobbs to veto housing bill

Mayors from across Arizona are calling on Gov. Katie Hobbs to veto a bill designed to lower home prices by cutting municipal regulations.

The Arizona Starter Homes Act narrowly passed out of the Arizona Legislature with bipartisan support. The bill’s backers say it would increase the supply of affordable housing by banning larger cities from requiring minimum lot sizes above 1,500 square feet in new subdivisions.

The bill would restrict cities’ ability to make homeowners form HOAs or purchase various items related to a home’s aesthetics.

City representatives said addressing the state’s affordable-housing crisis is a top priority for them but that the bill would not address the underlying causes of the crisis, like labor shortages, and pointed out that the language of the bill does not require that developers use the exceptions included in the legislation to build affordable housing.

“House Bill 2570 does not address any of the root causes and will do nothing to provide affordable housing,” Phoenix Vice Mayor Debra Stark said.

Goodyear Mayor Joe Pizzillo said the legislation would get rid of the tools cities use to get community buy-in on the very affordable-housing projects that legislators say they want to attract. He cited the Dominium project, an 650-unit affordable-apartment project in his city.

“But if House Bill 2570 is signed into law, it will cut local government and our residents’ voices for the process, a process, by the way, that brings the state’s largest affordable-housing development to the city of Goodyear without significant opposition to the employee neighbors,” Pizzillo said.  

But supporters of the bill said they believe its provisions will lead to an increase in the supply of affordable homes. 

“I do like to support our cities, but I think that we need this nudge to make sure that we are getting more affordable housing out there,” said Rep. Judy Schwiebert (D-Phoenix), one of 15 Democrats who voted for the bill when it passed through the Arizona House.

Schwiebert pointed to the provision dealing with minimum lot sizes in new subdivisions.

“I believe that that will help with our housing supply,” she said. 

Stark, the Phoenix vice mayor, said many cities are already acting to address the housing crisis, pointing to her city’s vote to legalize accessory dwelling units, also called backyard casitas

A lobbyist with the League of Arizona Cities and Towns said the organization is involved in active discussions on a separate bill that passed the Arizona House last week that would require cities with more than 75,000 people to allow homeowners to build accessory dwelling units on their properties

But Yuma Mayor Doug Nicholls, whose city already allows ADUs, indicated he still felt those decisions were best made at the local level, not the legislature. 

“As far as requiring it, again, as long as it’s something that we can negotiate – it’s a little heavy right now on the numbers that are allowable – so a by right issue is always something that the cities are going to have a very hard time supporting, but a lot of our cities are going that way anyway,” Nicholls said.   

Lawmakers who backed the bill called on Hobbs to sign it, saying the League of Arizona Cities and Towns, the lobbying group representing the municipalities, is unwilling to budge on legislation that limits their zoning powers in any way.

"We have been working with stakeholders on housing for over three years, trying to bring solutions to help Arizonans live out their American dream," House Majority Leader Leo Biasiucci (R-Lake Havasu), who sponsored the bill, said in a statement. “We have reached out to the League multiple times throughout negotiations and were told repeatedly that they would not negotiate this bill.”

Hobbs still won’t say whether she plans to sign the bill but, in the past, she said she wanted to see bipartisan housing legislation that was a product of compromise with cities. A spokesman says the governor is still meeting with stakeholders, but would not say who those stakeholders are. 

The Arizona Starter Homes Act has some bipartisan support among lawmakers, but Mesa Mayor John Giles said the legislation would effectively shut residents out of future conversations about development in their communities.

“While I believe the intentions of HB 2570 are well-founded and good intention, the bill is deeply flawed,” Giles said. “Strictly limiting our city's land planning authority and silencing our neighborhoods is not the solution to the housing crisis.”

Giles said the bill shifts too much power to developers.

“There's a saying in politics that never let a good crisis go to waste,” Giles said. “This is the development community using the housing crisis to try to get out from under all regulation.”

Wayne Schutsky is a broadcast field correspondent covering Arizona politics on KJZZ. He has over a decade of experience as a journalist reporting on local communities in Arizona and the state Capitol.