Now that the holidays are over, we at City Hall are back to work and 2018 looks to be a busy year. When the current council set our goals for this term, it was obvious that affordable housing had to be at the top of the list. The cost of living here is legendarily high, and housing is the major factor in that. That said, it’s also not an easy issue to address; otherwise, it would have happened already. The cost of living and the cost of housing have been issues for decades.
Part of the problem is supply; the housing market has simply not kept up with the growth of Flagstaff and Northern Arizona University, resulting in high housing prices. A related part of the problem is the price of land in Flagstaff. We’re landlocked and there are limited places to build housing resulting in land that is very expensive.
The big question is: What are we doing about it? I believe our approach to this and other big, long-term problems needs to be multi-faceted. We’ll need to bring everyone to the table: government, business, neighborhoods and community members. No one sector is capable of addressing it alone. This work is already underway. For its part, the city has requested proposals for subsidized housing on three city owned lots. We’re also looking at rezoning more city owned spaces so that we can build housing on them. However, the city simply does not have the land or the resources to build enough housing to mitigate prices. I am a big proponent of public-private partnerships and housing is an area that’s just perfect for such collaboration. We recently negotiated with Vintage partners to bring down the fees on a development going in in west Flagstaff in exchange for affordable housing units. The Timber Sky development will have more than 1,000 homes and 100 of those will be designated affordable housing. It’ll be a dark sky development, and include bike trails and wildlife corridors. We’re also looking at ways to open up more land that could be available for development, which requires roads and utilities to be built and so is a long-term project. The reality is Flagstaff is growing. Our responsibility is to manage it wisely.
I’ve convened several groups to workshop solutions, the Community Policy Trust is a bipartisan group composed of former elected officials and community leaders. We meet quarterly and discuss issues like affordable housing and the cost of living. We go over what’s been done before, what helped, what didn’t and what ideas were brought up but maybe not enacted for various reasons. Those reports are available on the city’s website. I am also bringing together a focus group of developers and real estate agents to talk about how the city and businesses can work together to increase the supply of housing and incentivize the building of affordable housing.
Finally, we can’t address the cost of housing without talking about the rapid growth of NAU. Enrollment goals for the NAU campus are not set by NAU, they come from the Arizonan Board of Regents. Furthermore, this problem isn’t unique to Flagstaff. Tempe and Tucson are having similar issues as Arizona State University and the University of Arizona grow. In the coming weeks, I will be meeting with their mayors and together, the three of us will approach the Regents.
Housing has been a problem for as long as I can remember. It’s a big, complex issue, and we should use every available tool to attack the issue from as many angles as possible.
Thank you to everyone who is working on this. Together, we can make this a community for everyone. FBN
By Coral Evans
Coral Evans is the mayor of the City of Flagstaff.