Housing reform bipartisan across country, can be in Arizona

This article was originally published by Arizona Capitol Times.

By Rep. Analise Ortiz and Sen. Anna Hernandez

When knocking on doors to win our elections in Maryvale, our community relayed a resounding shared concern: housing costs have increased substantially and simply finding a home has become next to impossible.

We met a retired couple whose adult children had moved back home because they were priced out of apartments. We met seniors on fixed incomes terrified that their rent would be raised on them—again. We met a young couple struggling to find an affordable home to start their family.

Maryvale was one of the first master-planned communities in the country, making the American dream of homeownership attainable to families. Today, a community like Maryvale couldn’t be developed under restrictive zoning laws that regulate design standards, lot sizes, and garage requirements.

These burdensome zoning laws are a root cause of our housing crisis. According to the Arizona Department of Housing, Arizona has a shortage of over 270,000 homes. With 100,000 people moving here annually, we simply do not have enough places for people to live.

Zoning laws create onerous delays in the development process. This finding was emphasized last year during a months-long bipartisan Housing Supply Study Committee. The information gleaned from over 70 presenters—advocates, academics, builders, non-profits and residents —underscored that zoning reform is an important puzzle piece to solve our housing crisis.

We support Zoning Reform
We support efforts to reform zoning laws in Arizona and we strongly encourage our colleagues on both sides of the aisle to do the same. There are currently three measures before the Legislature to create more places for people to live, stabilize the market, and drive down housing costs.

HB2536 would require cities to make zoning decisions in a matter of months as opposed to years. The proposal would legalize backyard casitas and shared living facilities for seniors, who happen to be our fastest growing homeless population. The bill also would remove many of the costly design requirements that have effectively regulated starter homes out of existence in Arizona.

SB1161 would require two cities—Phoenix and Tucson—to allow any low-income housing project to be built “by right” along light rail and streetcar routes. These affordable housing projects – which we desperately need in our two largest cities – would be effectively fast-tracked through the process. The bill would also prioritize Arizona residents in the distribution of housing assistance vouchers.

SB1163 would allow for smaller lots for starter homes. It also would legalize duplexes, triplexes and manufactured housing options. These housing types, which once provided some of the most affordable options for residents, are nearly impossible to build in Arizona currently.

While these three bills may not have everything that we

would like to see, we cannot afford to sit on the sidelines until we get the perfect bill. Our constituents—especially those facing eviction and housing insecurity—simply cannot wait.

Zoning has a dark history in this country
You don’t have to search far to learn about the history of zoning in this country. And while de facto racial segregation may not guide modern zoning laws any longer, it’s impossible to ignore this pretext when reviewing today’s housing crisis.

In our short time in the Legislature we have witnessed scare tactics and hyperbole as it relates to housing reform. We’ve heard comments that suggest more housing “will invite more crime,” “will cause more traffic” or “destroy the character of the neighborhood.”

Here’s our response: In a crisis, the needs of the many must outweigh the convenience of the few. Across the U.S., YIMBY groups – Yes, In My Back Yard efforts – have arisen to dampen the impact of pockets of NIMBY neighbors determined to control property they don’t own. We respect the position of those who oppose development efforts. We don’t want to harm their quality of life. But fairness and compassion dictate that we must help our constituents who have been priced out of renting or buying a home.

Reform is bipartisan
States across the country have started to push back on these sordid zoning regulations. Both Republican and Democratic Governors have loudly opposed local zoning laws. Governor Polis of Colorado called for numerous changes in his State of the State address this past January and followed up with specific proposals just last month.

Governor Gianforte of Montana echoed Polis’ sentiments, and Montana lawmakers have introduced several proposals to speed up housing development and remove antiquated barriers.

Massachusetts, Vermont, Washington, Texas, Oregon have all introduced proposals to cut through local red tape and make housing production a priority.

The three reform measures that are currently sitting at our Capitol are also bipartisan with all three bills receiving support from Republicans and Democrats in their committees.

We are at a crossroads with our housing crisis in Arizona. We can either take action to mitigate the crisis or we can continue with status quo. For us, the answer is clear. This is not a question of politics or partisanship. This is about helping human beings achieve their dreams and improve their daily lives. It’s about fairness and acting with grace. We need reform – and we need it now.

Sen. Anna Hernandez and Rep. Analise Ortiz represent Arizona Legislative District 24.

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