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Sat, Sept. 21

We must face up to affordable housing dearth

The May 26 cartoon about affordable housing aptly depicts the plight of the workforce serving the Prescott/Prescott Valley area.

It is nothing to laugh about. Instead, it is a serious issue that so many don't understand or have accurate information to judge.

In fact, when a group comes before the city with a proposal for affordable housing, many citizens come out in opposition because of myths of crime, drugs and unsavory people they think will depreciate their neighborhood.

The reality is that the word "affordable" simply means that housing costs shouldn't be more than 28 percent of a family's income. However, according to the 2000 Census, the majority of people in the tri-city area pay more than 35 percent of their income for housing.

As housing costs rise, more and more of us have to struggle to keep up. Most residents of modern affordable housing developments work full-time at low- or moderate-income jobs. A rent increase, divorce, job loss or other adverse circumstance may cause others to need affordable housing.

Many people who need this housing are already working in our towns. The question is whether they can afford to remain here.

Statistics show that the families who need affordable housing most are people living at or just below median income. These people, who can't afford to live here, serve the community as educators, healthcare workers, entry-level police officers and firefighters, etc. Imagine an emergency where the on-call service providers have to travel as long as 45 minutes to Prescott or Prescott Valley to perform their duties.

The League of Women Voters' January 2003 newsletter states that in Central Yavapai County, an estimated 55,480 households pay more than 28 percent on housing. The major reasons for this are low incomes relative to housing costs, the high cost of land and the lack of infrastructure.

According to Economy.com, land cost increases in Yavapai County have been greater than those of Arizona and the rest of the United States. The Bureau of Economic Analysis in 2002 shows per capita income of Yavapai County to be more than $9,000 less than the per capita income of the rest of the U.S.

Further substantiating those two facts is an Affordable Housing Profile from Elliott D. Pollack and Company that notes a housing gap in the City of Prescott of 413 housing units for households earning 60 percent of median income and 226 housing units for households earning 80 percent of median income.

The census notes that between 1990 and 2000, Prescott's population growth has been 22 percent. Median household income rose by about 57 percent while housing values during the same period rose 72 percent. Only one in five, or 21 percent, of Prescott households were within the housing affordability range in 2002.

The current shortfall in affordable housing affects all income ranges, including those at median income and above. As people of lower income levels buy houses costing more than 28 percent of income, an affordable housing shortage occurs at higher income levels as well.

If you already own a nice home in the Prescott/Prescott Valley area, it may be difficult for you to understand why this affordability crunch is your problem.

Some even see it as a positive situation because their home is increasing in value and fewer people are able to move into the area. While it is easy to find a few benefits to our current affordability problem, the negative effects of this situation far outweigh anything positive.

Our current situation is encouraging sprawl and transportation problems. As affordability drives people further and further away from the workplace, new subdivisions pop up in the surrounding areas to meet the increased demand for housing. Since most of the jobs in our area are still located in the Prescott/Prescott Valley area, these same people have to travel by car to get to their jobs. This puts more pressure on building roads and clogs up our existing roadways.

No sane person wants to see unfettered growth, but we cannot sustain our quality communities without addressing this affordability problem. We must find balanced approaches that ensure both the quality of our region and the quality of our citizenry.

Kathern L. Mitchell is a resident of Prescott and works with a group gathering statistics to create a demographic profile of Yavapai County.

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