When I came home from Iraq in 2003, Americans thanked me for my service. They called me a hero and said my sacrifice wouldn’t be forgotten. Since then, I’ve been barely able to avoid homelessness thanks to exclusionary zoning laws that make it almost impossible for people like me to find affordable housing.
I’m a single dad with teenage triplets and another son. I have struggled with maintaining stable housing since the Great Recession, and still struggle today. My status as a 100% disabled veteran means I’m not allowed to have full-time employment; I rely on benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs to survive. My monthly disability check is a little more than $3,750 – about $45,000 a year. In good times, it covers the essentials. But with the average rent for a four-bedroom home in Phoenix – what I need for my family – more than $2,500, I’m forced to spend more than 66% of my monthly income on rent.
There are thousands of veterans like me in Arizona: people who served our country and were injured in the process. Some are able to work; many aren’t.
Rents have skyrocketed. Commutes are increasingly long and congested. The availability of rental housing is beyond problematic, particularly for Servicemembers relocating to Arizona that need to secure housing for their families on short notice.
It’s time for our state government to take action to serve our veterans and Servicemembers, but just as importantly, for all Arizonans struggling with our state’s housing crisis.
As the local Arizona economist Elliott Pollack explains to legislators and local officials, there are seven ways to solve Arizona’s housing crisis:
1. Build more housing.
2. Build more housing.
3. Build more housing.
4. Build more housing.
5. Build more housing.
6. Build more housing.
7. Build more housing.
Mr. Pollack also explained that a pro-economic development policy begins with pro-housing policies. I’d take it a step further. Pro-military policies for our nation also start with pro-housing policies at the state level because housing scarcity has detrimental impacts on military readiness.
Servicemembers cannot effectively train for deployments without safe, comfortable and affordable places to live for their families. Many veterans often cannot find sellers willing to accept an offer with a VA Home Loan, even for moderately priced homes in Arizona. Without an abundant supply of affordable housing, Arizona will continue to fail not just veterans and military families but every Arizonan on the brink of homelessness and struggling to make ends meet.
As a veteran, I support Senate Bill 1117 at the state legislature because it will remove the red tape and local hurdles that have choked the pipeline for new housing in Arizona. Usually, I wouldn’t support the state government meddling with local control. With Arizona’s housing crisis, though, years of mostly well-intentioned policies from cities and towns have often produced unintended consequences or, as we say in the military, second and third-order effects that, in practice, have resulted in exclusionary zoning practices. The housing crisis requires immediate solutions because it’s even more severe for veterans and Servicemembers. That’s especially true for Latino and African American veterans who live in communities plagued by years of exclusionary zoning practices.
Here’s what Senate Bill 1117 does that specifically helps the military community:
● Legalizes the most naturally affordable new housing types – casitas, manufactured homes, and boarding houses – where they are currently banned. This legislation would allow a military veteran in Goodyear to add a casita on their large lot and rent it to a Servicemember stationed at Luke AFB. Casitas typically rent for 19% less than other market-rate rentals, giving stable housing to a Servicemember and providing a supplemental income to a veteran homeowner.
● Legalizing single-family homes on smaller lots opens the door to “starter homes” for working-class and middle-class families. Affordable housing like this was once the foundation for young military families. Both active-duty families and transitioning Servicemembers used “starter homes” to build wealth, provide stability, and create community. Simply put: Arizona isn’t producing enough affordable housing, especially in metropolitan areas.
It’s important to note that SB1117 only applies to cities with more than 25,000 residents.
I’ve watched the Not In My Back Yard movement block housing projects at the local level by screaming at elected officials. They continuously gripe about “those people” living in rental apartments, condos, patio homes and casitas. Those people are members of Arizona’s military families. They are Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, Guardians, and Coast Guardsmen. Yes, even Space Force and Coast Guard families live in Arizona, and they, too, need affordable housing.
“Those people” need affordable, available housing, and they need it TODAY.
They don’t have the luxury of waiting years for local municipalities to point fingers and update 10-year general plans.
Senate Bill 1117 is mission-critical for Arizona. It deserves our support.
Chad Flannery is a former U.S. Navy Hospital Corpsman who served as a combat medic with the First Marine Division during the invasion of Iraq in 2003.