Scottsdale’s mayoral candidates are split on how to address the city’s lack of affordable housing, with most candidates opposed to the city taking a direct role in addressing the shortage.
The candidates tackled the question during a forum hosted by Scottsdale Area Chamber of Commerce‘s Scottsdale Rising Young Professionals group, Scottsdale Coalition of Today and Tomorrow’s FUEL group, Scottsdale Leadership and Scottsdale Community College.
The entire forum can be viewed on the Chamber’s Youtube page at youtu.be/bVx7fV3Ywag.
Scottsdale has seen rents and home prices rise significantly over the past several years.
The median home sale price in Scottsdale rose from $549,500 at the beginning of July 2018 to $590,000 in 2019, according to The Cromford Report, which tracks the Valley real estate market.
Thus far in 2020, the median home sale price is north of $620,000.
“I think attainable housing, affordable housing, workforce housing is one of the most difficult issues that we face in Scottsdale,” Councilwoman Virginia Korte said. “But wouldn’t it be great if our teachers and our nurses and our public safety brave young and women could live here in Scottsdale?”
“But we are somewhat of a victim of our own success in that our property values are higher than any place else in the Valley,” Korte said.
Former Councilman Bob Littlefield argued there were enough affordable properties in Scottsdale.
Littlefield said there are “literally hundreds of rentals to rent for under $1,000 a month” in Scottsdale, but that some individuals who work in the city choose to live elsewhere because “they can get more house for their dollar elsewhere.”
But rents are also high in Scottsdale, though the median rent in the city has dipped slightly in recent months.
According to online marketplace Apartment List, the median rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Scottsdale is up one percent over last year to $1,350 – which is more expensive than Phoenix, Mesa, Glendale and Tempe but still more affordable than Gilbert, Chandler and Peoria.
Still, 83 percent of the city’s apartment stock rents for over $1,000 per month, according to RentCafe, another online marketplace.
Rising housing costs have coincided with an increase in the size of the city’s homeless population, a trend seen in Scottsdale’s neighboring cities as well.
Scottsdale Human Services Director Greg Bestgen said the city’s Point in Time count identified 50 homeless individuals 4 years ago but that number jumped to 102 this year. The count reflects only the number of street people found during a particular period of time on one day.
The lack of affordable housing is not unique to Scottsdale.
Arizona ranks near the bottom nationwide with only 26 affordable housing units available for every 100 extremely low-income renters, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s 2020 GAP report.
Citing the limited supply of attainable housing for young professionals and families, Olivia Brancati with Scottsdale Leadership asked the mayoral candidates if the city should provide incentives to developers to build more affordable housing.
Most candidates opposed the city taking a direct role in subsidizing the creation of affordable housing.
Councilwoman Suzanne Klapp said she opposed offering incentives but that the city should still encourage developers to build more affordable properties and make sure those problems do not face problems moving through the city’s approval process.
“So my goal is to work with developers to help them find ways to improve the ability for people to either rent or buy, and incentives isn’t really the answer because then it creates unfairness, but we can emphasize, encourage, discuss and talk with developers,” Klapp said.
Former Councilman David Ortega said the problem is the city is a “net donor,” meaning its residents and businesses contribute more to the federal government than the city receives in return for things like federally-funded housing programs.
Ortega said the city contributed more money regionally via transportation sales tax than it receives in return for its own transportation projects.
“So, on both those levels, I will work hard to bring those dollars home,” Ortega said.
Former Councilwoman Lisa Borowsky and Littlefield both opposed any sort of incentive to builders.
“Scottsdale is a very special community,” Borowsky said. “People aspire to live in Scottsdale.”
Borowsky said there are already affordable options available adjacent to Scottsdale and that the city can encourage young families to move to the city by making it easier to receive remodel permits in the city’s aging areas.
Littlefield said, “I think if we start getting into the city into the business of taking care of affordable housing or subsidizing it or something like that, we’re rapidly going to have to go down a financial rabbit hole.”
Borowsky said there are affordable options near Scottsdale in neighboring cities.
“We’re fortunate because we’re part of a metropolitan area…there are so many options for price points and a very short commute to Scottsdale if you’re living in Tempe, for example, or in Phoenix,” Borowsky said.
But Councilwoman Virginia Korte said transportation is an issue for workers that commute to Scottsdale.
“We can create some attainable housing areas, but it’s not going to meet the entire need,” Korte said. “And I think that’s where we need a robust transportation conversation in this city.”
Korte said she opposed the adoption of the city’s Transportation Master Plan a few years ago due to the removal of “anything around public transit.”
In 2016, Korte and Councilwoman Linda Milhaven were the only two members to oppose the adoption of the city’s transportation master plan that included language specifically excluding light rail and street cars from conversations about future transportation options in Scottsdale.
“I think that that was irresponsible and we need as a community to move forward and create those ideas and be innovative how we’re going to move 87 percent of our workforce from (their homes) to here,” Korte said.
A lack of transportation options can compound issues surrounding affordable workforce housing, Camaron Stevenson told the Progress in 2019.
Stevenson, spokesperson for the Arizona Housing Coalition, said if workers cannot afford to live in a city, that can increase commute times, pollution and wear and tear on transportation infrastructure.
While much of the conversation focused on the impact of rising housing costs on young families and professionals, the market also impacts Scottsdale’s elderly residents, some of whom have lived in the community for decades and are now being priced out.
In 2019, Klapp told the Progress the effect of rising costs on the elderly was a concern for her.
They are working with individuals at (the) peak of rent they can afford,” Klapp said. “They used to see rent increases of $25 per month; now seeing rents rise between $100 to $200 per month.”
While some have suggested that displaced residents could find cheaper alternatives elsewhere in the Valley, that, too, has its drawbacks as it puts distance between those residents and their support systems, like churches, friends and community services.
“It’s very traumatic for them to be uprooted from their community,” Bestgen said. “Especially the fears of the unknown; of a different community outside of Scottsdale. It can be just a real high stress or for these individuals.”