We appreciate the recent media attention and societal conversation centered on homelessness and the shortage of affordable housing. These stories show us the importance of home and connect us together. When we think of home, we think of talk around the dinner table, helping kids with homework, a place to get a good night’s sleep. We all have special memories of home.
But many Arizonans see home as a struggle. A struggle to pay rent, to keep the utilities on, to keep our kids safe. This struggle is caused by an income-housing mismatch in Arizona. We simply are not building the right mix of homes to meet the income levels of our residents.
The Arizona Coalition to End Homelessness and the Arizona Housing Alliance (soon to be merging into one organization to amplify the issue of ending homelessness and affordable housing) believe that every Arizonan should have a safe, affordable place to call home. Hard working families, veterans, and people with disabilities should be able to pay for a home and still have enough left over to buy basics like groceries and gas. When people live in stable homes, children achieve more in school, families are stronger, and seniors and people with disabilities are healthier.
In addition to the depressing tale the recent news articles tell, it’s regrettable they are released just as the state Legislature adjourns. Because while the diligent work of the media in highlighting what you as a citizen can do to help those most in need is crucial in helping individuals and providers alike, there are several policy choices our elected officials, particularly at the state and local level, could take.
- Restore the state housing trust fund
Public investment is necessary to ensure the private housing market works for all Arizonans. During the recession, the state legislature cut the state housing trust fund from $30 million to $2.5 million. That $30 million prevented 6,000 Arizonans annually from entering homeless shelters, and helped the 3,000 in shelters get the services they needed to get back on their feet. It also created affordable apartments and helped repair our aging rural housing stock. It’s no wonder we’re seeing more and more people living on the streets. The state housing trust fund should be restored.
- Increase the state lottery allocation to homeless services
Lotteries are often called the poor man’s retirement plan, so maybe that’s why state lawmakers allocate $1 million of lottery proceeds to address homelessness. But that’s hardly enough to keep folks who are living paycheck to paycheck or who experience a job or health setback from showing up on the doorstep of a homeless shelter. For almost a decade the state has not allocated any new funding to prevent and assist folks losing their homes. It’s time to increase the state lottery allocation to homeless services to meet these new challenges.
- Support all developments that include housing that is affordable
Quality rental apartments are incredibly scarce and expensive. More people have become renters, driving up rents. Yet incomes have remained stagnant. We estimate there is a shortage of 210,000 affordable homes to match the income levels of residents in our state. To make sure people can find decent housing at reasonable costs, city leaders and neighborhoods should support every development that increases the supply of safe, affordable homes
Home brings us together. It is one of the few experiences we all share. It intersects with almost every other social issue, from education and health, to employment and public safety. A safe, affordable home for every Arizonan is possible. We just need the political will to make it happen.
Joan Serviss Val Iverson
Arizona Coalition to End Homelessness Arizona Housing Alliance