Tempe continues to grow while housing demand intensifies

Students, city employees discuss the challenges and potential solutions for Tempe's growing housing problem

Tempe's population has increased by 21% since 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, making the city one of the fastest growing in the Phoenix metropolitan area and giving it one of the highest population densities in Arizona.

This unprecedented growth has led to a surge in housing demand, driving up costs and outpacing wage increases in the area. The city's growth is attributed to many factors: an increased level of commercial investment, attractive housing prices for coastal investors and a host of residents moving to the area from other states.

Tempe's rising housing costs have impacted students, especially those seeking accommodation within the private market and close to ASU's campuses.

''For a lot of people I know, it's hard,'' said Marsalis McGee, a sophomore studying mechanical engineering. ''At least 90% of what I made during my summer job went into housing costs.''

Stephanie Brewer, the executive director of Newtown Community Development Corporation, a Tempe-based nonprofit founded in 2004 working to engage potential home buyers, provide financial education and supply them with affordable housing, said there's a gap between income and affordable housing prices.

According to Redfin, a real estate brokerage company, in September 2016, the median sale price for homes in Tempe was about $252,000. In September 2021, the median sale price for homes in Tempe had increased to $425,000.

Despite Tempe's relatively high population density compared to the rest of Maricopa County, much of its residential zoning is R1 single-family housing. Single-family homes are a staple of the American landscape – white picket fences surrounding a yard and traditional home – but have negative implications for sustainability and climate change.

''Zoning is always a significant consideration when looking at developing housing,'' said Levon Lamy, the deputy human services director for Tempe's housing services division. ''There are some base realities that we are working with. Number one, we cannot control the market."

Brewer discussed the significance of community land trusts – the acquisition, ownership and stewardship of the land by a nonprofit corporation for affordable housing units.

''Community land trusts absolutely serve a function,'' Lamy said. ''They are a fantastic mechanism for low and moderate-income homeownership opportunities, and it absolutely creates that permanency in affordable housing and homeownership options.''

Newtown Community Development Corporation's community land trust is the largest in Arizona, with more than 150 properties across Maricopa County.

''If you move some of those people from an affordable rental into affordable homeownership, you now have free units,'' Brewer said. ''I think the government gets stuck on affordable rental too often and doesn't give enough to affordable homeownership.''

Lamy said in Arizona, there is no ability to force the inclusion of affordable housing into zoning plans. But to help provide more affordable homes, the city in 2018 formed the Tempe Coalition for Affordable Housing "to purchase single-family homes, townhomes and apartments that will remain permanently affordable for individuals and families," according to the city's website.

Tempe also has numerous housing initiatives to support residents. Lamy mentioned the importance of housing navigators – employees who engage with landlords to recruit them into housing authority programs.

''We're continually doing landlord engagement and outreach,'' Lamy said. He explained a byproduct of the role of the housing navigators is the way they are knowledgeable about affordable housing units and can connect people in need of accommodation to landlords.

Brewer explained many renters are unaware of the benefits and accessibility of homeownership, which is why Newtown focuses on both education and accessibility.

''It was very important for us to include financial well-being in the mission statement,'' Brewer said. "We do housing counseling, credit coaching, and we also develop housing for clients to buy because you can get somebody prepared for homeownership, but if there aren't any houses within their budget, they are going to be disappointed.''


Reach the reporter at wstuart1@asu.edu and follow @wjstuart01 on Twitter.

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