Affordable Housing: Now What?

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Addressing Payson's work force housing shortage will require a communitywide effort -- the leadership of the town council, the participation of employers, the involvement of churches and nonprofits. It will also take a change in public attitude.

That was the conclusion of 25 participants who attended a Community Round Table hosted by the Payson Roundup Tuesday, May 30 at the Payson Public Library. The forum was the pinnacle of a six-part series on affordable housing researched and published by the Roundup. Those who attended included employers, town staff, elected officials and private citizens.

Jerry Owen, the town's community development director, said his department has been tracking options such as a first-time homebuyer's program, a subdivision of starter homes, self-help housing and community land trusts to alleviate out-of-reach housing costs.

"Payson needs to be trying everything," he said. "There's no magic bullet out there."

Owen favors community land trusts.

A land trust is deed-restricted property donated to the community for a specific purpose.

When a resident lives in a land trust home, the person shares a portion of the equity in that home with the owner of the community land trust.

When the house sells, the homeowner receives a portion of the proceeds, the remainder funds the purchase of other land trusts.

Developer Kevin Sokol has already begun this process in Payson. He donated a portion of his subdivision, Boulder Ridge, currently making its way through the zoning process, to the town.

But in a place that puts a premium on acreage, these opportunities are limited.

"The land has to come from somewhere," said Rick Croy, director of Payson Regional Housing Development, a nonprofit private company. "The town would have to be involved in a land trust."

Owen also researched self-help housing and starter subdivisions, where homeowners invest sweat equity and receive low-interest rate, government-subsidized lending.

Overcoming land shortages, paying for construction costs and keeping the resale value of homes affordable for the next homebuyer are insurmountable challenges in the current housing market.

That's why some employers offer job applicants and employees housing benefits.

Chris Wolfe, CEO of Payson Regional Medical Center, said the hospital has adopted proactive recruiting policies.

"Weekly, (nurses) turn down offers for positions," Wolfe said. "It is a very serious problem."

The hospital offers nurses a $10,000 signing bonus, and if they buy a house in the first year, the hospital adds another $7,000 to help with closing costs.

"We as an industry are having to do this," he added. "We're trying to support 40 new nurses. They make $20 an hour. Where are they going to live?"

Jeff Loyd, the 28-year-old co-owner of a tech company, relocated his business to Payson from the Valley in the fall of 2005.

Seven of his employees subsequently moved to the Rim Country, but only one owns a house.

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Jerry Owen, community development director for the Town of Payson, and Michael Hughes, a real estate agent and chairman of the Central Arizona Board of Realtors' affordable housing committee, participated in Tuesday's Community Round Table on Affordable Housing.

The rest, Loyd said, rent or live with parents.

Loyd said the lack of work force housing affects the growth of his business, and although he can communicate with his employees through Web conferences and e-mail, he'd rather create a more efficient, more productive local think tank.

"I'm running a business here because I like it here," Loyd said. "I need people to grow. I care about Payson and want to invest in the community."

After Tuesday evening's forum, Loyd said he decided to establish a housing fund, much like a 401K, for his employees.

But the problem won't be solved with one-off, employer-provided housing incentives. Company housing projects, sponsored by local corporations such as Wal-Mart, Safeway and Bashas', are essential, said retired educator and housing advocate Sue Yale.

Croy added another option: Redeveloping existing housing stock -- raze dilapidated homes and trailers, clean up lots and rebuild high-density housing.

"There are lots of neighborhoods that we'd really like to see changed," Croy said. "Not because you live next to them, but they need to be changed to make room for new places."

Such a task, said Bethany Beck of the Payson community development department, must be mindfully planned.

"What we don't want is it to have the stigma of living in a project," Beck said.

"We have to be careful, because the people can barely afford to live there now. (You raze and rebuild) then you price them out," said Michael Hughes, a real estate agent and chairman of the Central Arizona Board of Realtors' affordable housing committee.

That'll happen anyway, Croy said, if the town maintains its status quo.

"We have to have some type of transitional housing," Croy said. "If we don't do something, they're going to get priced out of the community anyway because most of the property owners will continue to raise rents."

Payson's current zoning and development laws contribute to the area's expense as well.

"There is very little zoning in town that supports higher density housing," Hughes said. "It's hard to change zoning, but it's doable. When you go to smaller zoning you're going to get people who say, ‘Not in our backyard.' That's their attitude."

A communitywide precedent must start with the town's leaders, Hughes said.

And that, real estate broker Cliff Potts added, will take someone willing to invest some "political capital."

"We have to get the support and commitment from our elected officials," he said. "When you use the term ‘affordable,' some people get alarmed that undesirables will move in. (Elected officials) have to stand up and say, ‘This is what we have to do,' and this is going to disappoint some voters."

Mayor Bob Edwards has set up a task force to consider the impact of affordable housing on Payson.

The task force will be headed up by Rick Croy.

See previous articles in the six-part series:

Week 1: Work force being priced out of Payson (April 28)

Week 2: Affordable housing: How did it get this bad? (May 5)

Week 3: Seniors struggle to find affordable housing (May 12)

Week 4: Why does it matter if there is no affordable housing? (May 19)

Week 5: Solving our housing crisis (May 26)

Part 6: Editorial: What we learned (May 26)

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