Solving Our Housing Crisis

Week 5: Solutions

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Payson citizens, town government, community organizations and developers would all have to come together and decide what they are willing to do to create affordable housing.

At the same time they would need to decide what they are willing to give up.

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In an effort to provide affordable housing to the work force of the Payson area, Habitat for Humanity has built 12 homes. One more is under construction and two are on the drawing board.

"There is no silver bullet solution to affordable housing," said Bethany Beck, housing program manager for the town.

But tell that to Barbra White, who wants to own a house in Payson so her children will have a place to call home that is not an apartment.

White has been living in an apartment since she moved to Payson in 2004 escaping an untenable marital situation.

The 45-year-old mother of four works full time in a management position to support her family.

"When I grew up, I always had a house to call home," White said. "My kids deserve a house to call home. I purposely left Phoenix to give them a better quality of life."

A local mortgage company told her she didn't earn enough money to purchase a home in Payson and steered her to Habitat for Humanity, to which she has applied.

Beck and town community development director Jerry Owen have spoken with housing program directors in other communities to ask what worked for them.

Sedona developers pay a chunk of money into the city's fund for rehabilitation and work force homes.

In other towns, developers get expedited project review during the planning process for projects that meet affordable housing criteria.

Flagstaff, struggling with a lack of affordable housing for its work force, has subsidized developer fees out of the town's general fund.

"It is controversial because a lot of people think it is money that should be spent in other ways," Beck said.

In California, residential land was rezoned, allowing owners to build "mother-in-law apartment" or caretaker units on their properties for rental income.

"Our problem is extra difficult because the cost of houses are high while wages are low," Owen said.

Placement of nonprofit housing development organizations on a level playing field with developers is one solution to affordable housing, the Arizona Planning Association reported in its February newsletter.

"Specifically, they should be allowed to use funding such as bond funding or federal dollars in the same manner as for-profit housing developers," according to an article in the APA newsletter. Nonprofits should also "be able to realize the same profits from their investment in work force housing as for-profit developers."

Obtaining a variety of new, and bumping up the percentage of existing, tax credits were other suggestions made in the article.

Citizens need to ask themselves, "What do they want and what are they willing to give up," Beck said."

Do they want higher density? To achieve that, will the natural forested spaces in and around the town decrease?

Is the answer more subsidized apartments like Pine View Manor, which HUD supports, or the Green Valley and Canal Apartments, supported in part by federal tax credits to the developers?

Into their own hands

While some wait for government to find the solutions, some local business owners have taken the matter into their own hands.

Jim Hill, owner of The Door Stop, struggled to find skilled workers because they could not afford to live here.

His solution was to buy condos to provide affordable rentals for people who work at his company.

"Unfortunately, it's gotten to the point were it is too expensive (to buy) more," Hill said. "In order to buy a condo in Payson and get it to where the (rents for my workers) are in the $500 to $600 a month range, you're reaching the point where you are putting $100,000 down.

"Higher density is the only answer," Hill said.

He currently has several positions open and is considering bussing workers up from the Valley to meet the needs of his business.

One house at a time

Payson Area Habitat for Humanity is building house #13 and has plans for a subdivision.

"As a town, we need to assist Habitat to be productive," Owen said.

His department plans to continue to tap into available government resources.

It is important for the community to show they care by trying solutions.

"We need to be thinking about the community land trust idea ... and have a local funding source," Owen said.

In such a trust, the town might own the land on which the affordable housing sits. People who make between 80 and 120 percent of the median income would qualify.

He would also like to see an emergency repair program created.

"You can't blame developers for wanting to make profits. That is the American Dream," said Rick Croy, director of the town's Community Assistance Program. "But those who say they are really in it for the long haul need to put benefits for the community into their projects, not just benefits to their wallets."

Croy suggested, as an example, that a developer looking to rezone a development for higher density, could be given affordable housing stipulations by the town planning commission before the rezoning is approved.

As a condition of approval, the developer might have to pay a fee or a percentage of the sales money from the homes into the area's nonprofit work force housing fund that could be created for this purpose.

Developers stepping up

Or the developers, in the interest of the community, could take it upon themselves.

One local developer, Kevin Sokol, has already taken the first step.

The Town permitted a zoning change of KDS Construction Co. LLC's Boulder Ridge subdivision in April.

The builder's original plan called for 86 units on the 16.7 acres on N. Tyler Parkway. Due to objections by neighbors to the density, Boulder Ridge will be comprised of 23 lots and a 28-unit townhome.

As part of the rezoning, Sokol, owner of KDS, also donated a portion of his land to build a park and affordable work force housing.

Apartments to condos

As Sokol sets an example, Croy believes there are still other things that can be done with already existing structures and developments.

Croy suggested converting apartments to townhomes and condos that people could purchase.

Pride in ownership is a motivation for people to keep their property looking nice.

Time and again, Roundup feature teachers and Payson people have said they live and/or moved to Payson for the beauty of the Rim Country and the friendliness of the folks who live here.

White believes her earning potential would increase in a larger city, but, "I moved here from Phoenix because I was tired of the heat and the hour-and-a-half work commute to go 20 miles," she said.

Meanwhile, she hasn't given up, and is continuing to work diligently, possibly taking on a second job, to achieve her dream of a home for her children.

Join the Payson Roundup to discuss more solutions to the area's affordable housing crisis at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 30 in the meeting room of the Payson Public Library for a round table discussion. Call 474-5251 to RSVP.

See related stories:

Loan programs make housing attainable for first-time homebuyers

Too poor to buy, too rich to qualify

Coming up

Week 6: Community round table, 5:30 p.m. May 30 at Payson Public Library. RSVP to (928) 474-5251, ext. 115.

See previous articles from this 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)

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