Even the most casual observer of The Courier's editorial pages has probably noticed that affordable housing has been on the minds of many readers in recent weeks.
This is understandable. It stirs strong sentiment on both sides of the issue, and healthy debate is a good thing when all the facts are on the table. Unfortunately, when passions run high, facts often get lost in the shuffle.
As executive director of Affordable Housing Resources Inc, (AHRI) the nonprofit 501(c)(3) corporation that's working to provide what we refer to as "Workforce Housing" for working families in Yavapai County, I'd like to clear up some of the issues – by reviewing some commonly held misconceptions about workforce housing in general and the Geneva Park Project in particular:
MYTH #1: Affordable housing is "low income" housing:
Workforce housing is not for low-income families. Other programs help seniors, low-, and very low-income wage earners. Workforce housing, including the proposed Geneva Park project off Willow Creek Road in Prescott, is for hard-working Yavapai County residents such as police officers, firefighters, educators, healthcare workers, social workers, clerks, municipal workers and probation officers.
These families have household incomes that are too high to qualify for "low-income" housing programs, but too low to allow them to buy their own home in the tri-city area.
MYTH #2: Affordable housing is an eyesore in the community:
Affordable housing looks just like other neighborhoods. The proposed Geneva Park project would comprise new three-bedroom, 1,200- to 1,400- square-foot homes in the $130,000 price range. The community would include landscaping, park space and other open space areas. A homeowners' association would create and oversee CC&Rs to ensure that residents uphold community standards and regulations. These communities are well-kept neighborhoods comprising hard-working families who take pride in home ownership.
MYTH #3: Affordable housing lowers surrounding property values:
Of all the myths about affordable housing, this tends to be the most polarizing. But the facts in no way support the concerns of well-intended neighbors of the Geneva Park project or any other workforce housing community. National studies in both rural and urban areas show that property surrounding affordable housing communities actually has increased in value rather than depreciated. Keep in mind that most people driving by or visiting these communities have no idea that developers built it as "affordable" housing.
MYTH #4: The Geneva Park Project is too dense for the area:
Geneva Park is a "PAD," a Planned Area Development. This means developer can build the number of homes that specific zoning allows in a closer cluster on the site, providing the remainder of the parcel remains open space. The Prescott General Plan, ratified by the voters in May 2004, recommends promoting clustered development. This is the issue that the Planning & Zoning Commission rejected late this past month that will go to the City Council in December. We are seeking to build homes in the flatter, open area of the parcel, leaving streams and ancient cottonwood trees untouched and avoiding the expense of trying to build on the steeper terrain of the site.
MYTH #5: The Geneva Park Project will cause water and traffic concerns:
Even the City of Prescott's Department of Public Works has concluded that the impact of 37 homes is not significant enough to warrant a traffic study and the city won't need any additional traffic signals to accommodate the Geneva Park Project. As for water use, the allocation these homes require is only slightly greater than the current zoning would need for much larger homes.
The bottom line is that housing values in Yavapai County have risen more than 70 percent in the past decade and a family of four making $36,000 annually cannot afford to buy a decent home in a community where the median home price is $250,000. The projected monthly payment for these homes including taxes, insurance, interest and principle would be $835, much less than most families in this income bracket are paying for rent. If you have owned your home for 10 years or more, I invite you to ask yourself if you could, at your current income, afford to buy your own house at its current value.
AHRI formed to help hard-working families because home ownership strengthens communities. Businesses whose employees live nearby have less turnover; people who invest in homeownership have a vested interest in community participation; and children reared in stable homes their parents own perform better in school, are less prone to participate in crime or gangs and have a better chance of developing into productive citizens.
(Kathern Mitchell is executive director of Affordable Housing Resources, Inc. She has lived in Prescott for the past four years, relocating from a rural Northern California ski resort with a tourist based economy, where she was the director of the chamber of commerce.)