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More people mean more problems for affordable housing in Arizona

Pending Home Sales
Posted at 6:12 PM, Mar 01, 2021

In his 2020 State of the State Address Governor Doug Ducey boasted that 350,000 jobs had been created since 2015 and that Arizona was “now the number one inbound state in America.”

It’s a distinction that even a pandemic did not change according to the latest population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau. Arizona added 129,558 new residents through July 1, 2020.

Over the last 10 years, Arizona has grown by 90,000 people on average and housing experts say the housing market has not kept up.

“We're not building at the rate of even keeping up with our growing population, let alone the amount of affordable housing—and housing to meet our current population,” said Katie Gentry, a researcher with the ASU Morrison Institute of Public Policy.

After the housing bubble burst in 2008 Arizona experienced a sharp decline in building new housing units. Gentry says despite the population growth new housing units are still not being built at the rate of the height of the housing boom in 2008.

That resulting shortage is a major contributor to the housing affordability crisis according to Sheree Bouchee, Affordable Housing Program Manager for the City of Phoenix.

“We did a gap analysis and found that we need 163,000 housing units to meet our current market demand. So there's a huge shortage which is leading to the affordability crisis that we see today.”

And no one feels the crisis more than low-wage earners and those who have more barriers to housing.

For weeks Gina Murphy has been searching for a two-bedroom apartment that she can afford.

“There's affordable housing out there, it's there. There's just waiting lists for it, because there are so many families that need help,” she said.

Murphy and her two sons are preparing to exit a transitional housing program offered by House of Refuge, a non-profit that provides housing for families experiencing homelessness.

Three years ago she came to Arizona with her 10- and 17-year-old sons. They left Washington State after she says her 20-year marriage fell apart.

Murphy found a job making $17 an hour in the medical industry but the housing she thought she had secured fell through and she said things spiraled from there.

“And I really had no other choice but to sleep in my car,” Murphy explained.

Her boys went to stay with relatives and the plan was to save for a place for three months. She showered at the gym in the morning, went to work in an office during the day, and went to sleep in her car at night.

But for Murphy who has an old eviction and less than stellar credit, finding a place would prove difficult.

As time went on she said she suffered from depression and began gambling.

What was supposed to be three months of living in her car turned into a year until House of Refuge called with an opening in its transitional housing complex.

“I just can't express to you guys how much I'm so grateful for this place,” she said.

Residents pay $400 per month for their apartments while they work with caseworkers, repair their credit and remove the barriers keeping them from permanent housing.

Murphy’s year in the program is almost up and she said she’s ready, but she’s afraid. Because despite all the work she put in, now she’s faced with an even tighter market that she still can’t afford.

On average a one-bedroom apartment in Phoenix costs $1,100 which is unaffordable to 45 percent of the households in Phoenix according to a housing report commissioned by the city in 2020.

“I make $17 an hour, and I can only afford an $868 apartment,” Murphy said. In this market that gets her a studio or a one-bedroom, if she can find one.

“What am I going to do with my kids when I don't find somewhere? And I'm just scared to be back in that spot. Because this time we're not working in the office. You know? This time I need a roof. I work from home,” she said.