Rick Croy-Housing Advocate Decries Divide

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Rick Croy spent a whole career framing the shot while running a photography studio in Tucson.

Now 16 years into his career as an advocate for affordable housing and working people in Payson, he's framing the political picture in Payson as an unaligned candidate for council.

And he doesn't like what he sees.

"I don't mean to point fingers at Mayor Edwards, but in the past three or four years, there has been a small, very vocal group that has controlled many issues in the Town of Payson. A lot of people are intimidated, and they just don't speak up."

Croy has been running a shoestring campaign, talking mostly about affordable housing and the interests of working class residents. He hopes to build on the name recognition left over from his unsuccessful bid for council two years ago.

"I guess I saw an opportunity of doing something for the community," said Croy, who has been critical of the conflicts that have marked town politics, although he remains vague about specific policy changes.

He spent many years building up a photography studio in Tucson, offering a range of commercial photography using 4 x 5 view cameras before selling out to his partners in 1985. For much of his life, he has been an avid hunter and fisherman in the Rim Country, so he decided to move to Payson and try his hand at selling real estate in 1991.

He gambled on setting up a whole new life in a small town where his son could attend a community school instead of an urban one. "I took a leap of faith, like about half the people here."

He sold real estate for a while, then shifted to running a community action program for Gila County, providing services to low-income families -- including help with utilities education and training. That led to his involvement in launching Payson Regional Housing Development, a nonprofit group to build and manage housing projects for low-income families in Payson, Buckeye and Nogales.

"I don't know if it's something God is calling me to do, but faith certainly has something to do with it," said Croy. "The driving force is that I see the need -- and that need became my livelihood."

He said that decision-making has been driven too much by certain groups of higher-income residents, many of them retirees in a town with a blue-collar population base and history. "The seniors, God bless them, are major economic engines in this town -- but if we had this ‘not in my back yard' attitude before they got here -- then they couldn't have come here. We're all God's children and we need to learn how to get along better -- we've become very fractured around the issues."

The council must act on behalf of the whole town, not certain neighborhoods, he added -- citing issues like the opposition to the extension of Mud Springs Road by people living in the mayor's neighborhood along Phoenix Street. "You've got a lot of retired people in their higher-end homes and they have the time to go out there and agitate for themselves, while the working class parents whose kids are in that school don't have time to go to these meetings and such. Still, it's the responsibility of the mayor and the town council to make decisions for the whole community."

Croy also drew a sharp contrast between his approach to growth and existing policies. Those policies impose a 250-home-per-year limit on new units. He pointed out the town hasn't come anywhere near the limit in the two years since it was adopted.

"I'm concerned that I'm seeing a stop to growth in Payson. People are saying, I'm here now -- no more. I see a lot of promises, but this 250-unit ultimatum is totally unnecessary. It created the false hype in the community that we're growing too fast. I don't think we're growing too fast, the market will set the pace to where we want to go."

He said the town has to work to allow for lower-cost housing that will enable working people and young people to continue living in town. That means allowing higher density and apartments, despite possible opposition for neighborhood groups.

"Over time, Payson has improved," concluded Croy. "We have our problems -- but we all moved here -- why should we expect that no one else wants to live here?"

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