Housing in Arizona ranks among the most important issues facing our state, as evidenced by the strong turnout for the bipartisan legislative Housing Supply Study Committee, which is holding sessions every two weeks to explore solutions to rising Arizona housing prices and the lack of available apartments and houses.
Unfortunately, this serious dialogue has gone largely uncovered by the state’s media, which seems content instead to focus on statistics, not solutions.
A case in point: Each month, the Maricopa County Justice Court issues an email update reporting the latest eviction numbers. Like clockwork, reporters dutifully report that “evictions are at record levels.” While every eviction is truly unfortunate, such headlines inevitably miss a key point about the raw eviction numbers from 2022 versus, say, 2010.
Arizona has added more than 1.3 million residents in that time, making the comparison of eviction numbers an “apples to oranges” mistake. That’s the equivalent of saying, “Gee, in 1976 Arizona had 177 murders compared to 365 in 2019, so I guess we’re twice as violent today.”
Actually, the state’s population has tripled in that time, meaning the murder rate has plunged.
In the same vein, it would be far more useful for the important community dialogue around housing to compare the rate of evictions per 100,000 residents over time. A look at those numbers shows the exact opposite of headlines like “Metro Phoenix eviction filings climb to 13-year high.” In reality, the rate of eviction filings statewide is at its lowest level since the housing crisis of 2008, according to statistics made publicly available by the Arizona Supreme Court.
Of course, no one wants to see anyone lose their home. More importantly, no one should have to, given the enormous amounts of eviction relief funding still available to renters years after the start of the Covid pandemic.
Unfortunately, many of the agencies responsible for distributing this relief money have struggled to get hundreds of millions of dollars in resources to renters and property owners in need. This issue also has not gotten the play it deserves, in large part because many agencies simply stopped releasing statistics that highlighted their shortcomings. As of March, the Arizona Multihousing Association’s comprehensive analysis of relief money showed that state and local agencies had received more than $915 million in federal aid to prevent evictions.
The amount distributed two years into the pandemic? Only 30 cents on the dollar.
Finding more effective ways to help renters in need should be a key element of the community conversation surrounding the state’s housing supply crisis. So should pushing cities and towns to stop falling prey to the rampant NIMBYism driving many recent housing and zoning decisions – a roadblock that has pushed the state’s housing shortfall to record levels and driven up the costs of housing with each “no” vote.
Currently, Valley rental homes stand at their highest occupancy rate in 50 years. With each available rental, an average of 20 families submits an application. That underscores the supply versus demand conundrum that must be fixed if we are to solve the housing supply crisis.
Having worked for years with a range of stakeholders on housing issues, I have witnessed apartment and home builders committed to solving what amounts to a true crisis. Unfortunately, that has not been reflected in much of what we read or see on television. There, stories tend to cast housing as a battle of good versus evil, and haves versus have-nots. This neglects the reality of the present crisis: That mom-and-pop property owners, apartment community owners, Realtors, builders and elected leaders are busy working together to keep people in their homes and to build more homes at all price points.
The truth is, we could use some help spreading the word about this effort. It may not be as sensational as headlines about broken eviction records, but what we’re doing is actually happening – and it has the potential to make a difference for residents across the state.
Courtney Gilstrap LeVinus is president and CEO of the Arizona Multihousing Association.