Need Viable Housing? Quad-city area community leaders say public, private, nonprofit cooperation key
So, you recently graduated from high school and you want to stay here to live and work in the Quad Cities of Prescott, Prescott Valley, Chino Valley or Dewey-Humboldt?
Tough, isn’t it?
Maybe your job doesn’t pay well enough to keep you here. How can you afford rent, food, gas and clothes when you’re making $11 or $11.50 per hour?
Do you want to get married and have kids? Even tougher.
For 2-1/2 hours Thursday morning, Aug. 8, at Yavapai College, a four-member panel and an audience of some 50 businesspeople, politicians and interested stakeholders grappled with solutions to the viable housing crisis here.
The discussion, sponsored by Central Arizona Partnership (CAP), featured Greg Vogal of Arizona Land Advisors, Brian Riley from State Bank of Arizona, Allison Mendibles of M&I Windows and Doors, and David Tharp of Central Arizona Fire and Medical Authority (CAFMA).
“Think of it as ‘attainable housing’ rather than ‘affordable housing,’” Vogal said. “We need greater economic opportunity here.”
Panelists answered questions from moderator Mark Stapp of Arizona State University’s Carey School of Business and the audience. Stapp suggested defining employers’ demand for housing in Prescott and Prescott Valley for their employees first.
The consensus among panel members was that sustainable development can’t occur here unless local businesses, the public sector, schools and nonprofits pool their resources to help those who can’t afford housing.
For example, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Community Development Financial Institutions Fund (CDFI) could work with commercial land banks to buy land for denser, not-for-profit housing to limit costs. Meanwhile, Urban Land Institute Arizona, a nonprofit specializing in land use and real-estate development, could provide guidance.
“Density [in housing] is not a disease,” Vogal said. “Larger, more affordable mobile home parks could help [new workers].”
HOME PRICES SKYROCKETING
Vogal added that resold homes in Yavapai County typically go for $300,000 to $350,000 apiece compared to $270,000 in Maricopa County.
Among other factors, including permitting and impact fees, retirees raise home prices here. However, in today’s stronger economy, Vogal said it’s also harder to find labor for home construction, and materials costs have risen 30% to 40%. He said it’s currently taking six to nine months to build a house when it had been three to four months.
“It is not at a crisis status here yet, but it is for the service worker,” he added.
The Yavapai County Contractors Association (YCCA) created a job force boot camp in 2018 to try to help younger people interested in trades.
“After three weeks, 18 of the 30 [people in the boot camp] went to work in the construction industry,” YCCA’s Sandy Griffis said. “They’re still working today. Two were making $28 an hour and were grateful and pleased they could rent their first apartment.”
Riley said 85% of the jobs in the Quad Cities are tied to the service economy (non-mining and non-manufacturing). He added that the average household income in Yavapai County is roughly $48,000 per year, about $6,000 to $7,000 lower than the national average and the third-lowest in Arizona.
Most health care, retail and leisure positions pay anywhere from $12 to $15 per hour.
“You can’t have a full-functioning community without various housing types,” Stapp said. “In a rural community, it’s even more difficult. You have to accommodate people who retire here, and first responders, teachers and public employees. You have to get people to stay here to help the local economy. You have an obligation to create a sustainable place.”
Prescott Unified School District Superintendent Joe Howard, who attended the forum, said his district has lost “100 kids per year for 15 years now,” partly because of affordability and rising charter school enrollment.
Chino Valley Unified School District Superintendent John Scholl said declining enrollment’s problematic for his schools, too.
“Most of the people who are moving to Chino Valley are retirees, and that’s hurting the school district because they have no connection to the district,” he added. “We can’t pass bonds. It’s a loss of community, and we can’t afford it anymore.”
In 2008, home prices tanked when the Great Recession hit. Today, with a healthier economy, prices continue to rise, and most of the population is getting priced out of the market, even if more people are renting rather than owning.
Mendibles, regional human resources and safety manager for the past 19 years at M&I’s Prescott Valley manufacturing plant, said it’s difficult for most of her approximately 385 employees to afford housing.
She recruits across the country for jobs with a starting pay of $14.50 an hour, although average pay at M&I is $18.25 an hour. Most M&I employees rent or live with family, Mendibles said.
“Our team members still can’t afford to buy housing, pay rent,” she said. “People won’t move here because of housing costs. Sometimes they can’t find a place to live. If they can’t find a place to live, they won’t stay in this area.”
Tharp, who’s spent 22 years with CAFMA, said there’s a problem recruiting and retaining people here because it’s cheaper to live in the Phoenix area. CAFMA recently changed its policy from hiring only firefighters who lived within a 30-minute drive of its fire stations to including Phoenicians.
“More firemen are willing to commute from Phoenix than live here,” Tharp said. “We’re able to mitigate fires better when firefighters live closer. There’s usually a lot of community service done by our firefighters, and that’s becoming harder. We want our personnel to live here to help the tax base, too.”