The $1.8 billion development, South Pier at Tempe Town Lake, that could be on the ballot in May is a perfect example of how the commodification of housing has a tremendous impact on student life.
The development is styled as a "world class waterfront experience." ASU students and Tempe workers should oppose this development and help make housing a public good for all.
The development advertises fine dining, an observation wheel, a luxury hotel, a business hotel, residences, shopping (with the "world’s best luxury brands"), entertainment and more. The overlying theme is clear: luxury.
One might think that when the city of Tempe first heard the details of the proposed development, its leaders would have taken a moment to think about its student population and Arizona's well-known housing crisis.
Unfortunately, they did not, and the development is in the process of potentially being put on the ballot through an appeal process including the city of Tempe and Central Arizonans for a Sustainable Economy.
It's not like students and workers have it easy with the housing situation in Tempe.
"I applied for housing back in October, I put my deposit down, I had everything ready to go… I flew to Arizona, I got here on the fifth of January, and they told me they couldn't accommodate me in the Tooker Dorms this semester," said Gabriela De Los Reyes, a freshman and international student at ASU studying materials science and engineering.
"I had to look through Facebook Marketplace to take someone's lease to be able to get a place as quickly as possible because all of the places that I was applying to were full or were out of my budget," De Los Reyes said.
The average rent for an apartment in Tempe is $1,912, according to RentCafe. While this may be affordable for those in middle-to-upper income brackets, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology living wage calculator says that a living wage in Tempe for one adult with no children is $18.48.
The Tempe minimum wage is $13.85.
"What we are really concerned about is the use of tax incentives and public resources to incentivize the development," said Brendan Walsh, the executive director of Worker Power, a social welfare organization.
"They're (the city of Tempe) making great pains to try to figure out how to help get a similar development agreement, this one in the case of the Coyotes entertainment district, onto the ballot by May," Walsh said. "This referendum, not accepting the signatures and putting the item on the ballot, seems to me, as I said, to be cynical and hypocritical, in the extreme."
It's unjust to students and workers in the area for the city to attempt to force the Tempe Town Lake development off the ballot. It was already bad that the city tried to make the development happen in the first place, but that they’re still trying to force it after strong opposition is a travesty.
When someone's housing is determined by their income and is not treated as a public good, the result is the establishment of massive luxury developments while the University neglects its housing and affordable non-University options are not adequately provided.
"I don't agree that housing should be based on the profit motive. I feel like it's a human right, I feel like it should be accessible for everyone. I feel like people should stop seeing it as a means to create wealth and rather as a means to create benefits and value," De Los Reyes said.
ASU students and workers in Tempe should strongly oppose the luxury development, whether it ends up on the ballot or not, and push for housing as a human right.
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly named UNITE HERE as being involved in the appeal process with the city of Tempe. The story was updated at on Feb. 23, 2023, at 2:15. p.m. to correct the error.
Edited by Kate Duffy, Reagan Priest, Caera Learmonth and Greta Forslund.
Editor's note: The opinions presented in this column are the author's and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.
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Aaron Stigile is an opinion columnist at The State Press. He previously wrote for The Defiant Movement and is working toward a bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Mass Communication. He is also working toward a minor in Spanish and a certificate in Cross-Sector Leadership.