Lotus sat down with community leaders to discuss the issues affecting housing affordability and the challenges and solutions in this in-depth article: In Profile, Phoenix Rising.
The soil of the west valley is once again being tilled. But instead of the usual crop of corn, cotton and alfalfa that has defined this part of the city, a new crop is popping up, rows and rows of homes.
The landscape of the valley dust bowl has seen an unprecedented rate of growth.
But with this expansion, comes many new challenges and is highlighting many existing ones. And while the laws of economics remain cold and indifferent to the struggle many are facing, communities are trying to bridge the gap.
As of the end of April, beginning of May 2022, Apartment List, a website that releases a National Rent Report, found that for the month of May 2022, the vacancy index across the country is sitting at 4.6%, below the 6% norm. This is leaving more units taken and helping to raise the price of rent as demand grows.
Apartment List also stated that rents increased this month in 93 of the 100 largest U.S. Cities, and highlighted FL and AZ specifically as seeing some of the fastest growth.
The Phoenix Metro has seen rents up 23% over the past 12 months, and up 38% since March of 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic began.
Tucson, the closest Metro area outside of Phoenix, at a little more than a 100 miles south and the 2nd largest in the state, also experienced a high level of rental growth. Tucson was up 21% year over year (Y/Y) and up 33% since March 2020.
The outlook of the suburbs surrounding Phoenix is also elevated. Zumper, another website tracking rental data, found that in east valley suburbs like Gilbert rent for a one bedroom is $1,550, up 12.30% Y/Y. While a two bedroom is $1,820, up 8.30% Y/Y.
Chandler and Mesa, also major east valley suburbs, saw a significant increase. In Chandler a one bed is $1,540, up 14.90% Y/Y, and a two bedroom unit sits at $1,820, up 15.20% Y/Y.
Mesa is at $1,320 for a one bedroom, up 26.90% Y/Y, and $1,710 for a two bed, up +34.60% Y/Y.
The data for the west valley cities like Glendale, saw a one bedroom at $1,230, up 25.50 Y/Y, and a 2 bed at $1,580, up 28.50% Y/Y.
Rent Cafe reported the average rent in west valley suburbs like Avondale to be $1,673, Buckeye at $1,811, and Peoria at $1,696.
Finding data for the west valley can be a challenge. While the west side is seeing large growth, with cities like the northwestern suburb of Surprise reporting census growth of +333.1% from 1990 to 2000, and +281% from 2000 to 2010. The focus of attention has been on east valley projects, a side of town more established in infrastructure and resources.
Mesa, a suburb, is the state's 3rd largest city. Tempe is home to Arizona State University, one of the largest public universities in the country. Scottsdale is world renowned as a shopping, spa, and golf destination.
Now that growth is bringing people to newer home markets and developments in the area, the growth of the west valley is bringing new opportunities along with it.
Is the West Valley Underserved
“The east valley is definitely built up more than us. We’re fairly new,” says Avondale Council Member Tina Conde. “I think it is up to us to kind of find those resources and bring them to our city.”
“We have the new beautiful Resource Center. We are the only that serves the west valley. We’re very intentional about making sure we have those resources. There are so many resources but we have to let people know about them.”
On a sunny Tuesday morning in May, we were able to meet with and talk to Council Member Conde. She walks into her office energetic and cheery, wearing a purple polo shirt embossed with the City of Avondale logo.
With in no time, after a short introduction and how do you do, she is off to the races. She notes that the city council meeting the night before had approved the city’s new bridge housing project, the first of its kind.
“It’s transitional housing for families that are homeless or becoming homeless in the City of Avondale,” she said, explaining that the project will consist of three separate furnished units just under 700 square feet each, located across the street from the Avondale Resource Center, where residents of the bridge housing units will be able to receive the necessary case management and resources such as job assistance, counseling, to help them transition from homelessness to permanent housing.
“This is just the start. We are just trying to figure out how the program is going to work. We have an amazing homeless (services) division that we just started and we are absolutely ecstatic to have them follow or gauge what is happening in our communities,” Conde said.
Conde is currently running unopposed for reelection. She has canvassed the community in the past few months campaigning. Her office, located in the new state of the art Avondale Visitor and Conference Center,
overlooks a dusty field in the foreground, while new residential and commercial development along Interstate 10 is seen in the background. Her office remains largely undecorated. She jokingly notes she doesn't want to move all the way into the office, to just have to pack everything up in case she doesn't win her reelection bid.
Yet tucked away in the corner of her office, sitting on the floor is a large framed poster.
On the top in big letters it states, “How to Build Community.” A long text below it has lines like, “Seek to Understand,” “Learn from New and Uncomfortable Angles,” “Know that no one is silent, though many are not heard, work to change this.”
She found it in the old Avondale City Council offices and grabbed it after asking permission first for her new office. “No one knows where it came from,” she laughs. She has tried to look it up online and find others or similar prints, but has had no luck.
She came across it and thought it had everything the community should stand for. “I fell in love with it.”
Conde speaks with a notable passion about the families she serves and this part of our metro. A strong enthusiasm, fervor, and warmth exude from her voice as she speaks. Her attitude is one of a grounded yet idealistic hope.
On why she loves the west valley specifically she said, “Well, I just love serving the community because everybody is so authentic"
"(Avondale is) rich in culture. You can go down to Western [Avenue] and meet people that have been here for forever [sic]… and then you go up to The Boulevard, what's going to be brand new [development] and you’ll have new residents here, so it's just such a diverse [neighborhood]. For me I like that…”
Conde has been a long time resident of the valley.
“I was actually born here, and we moved to Cali (California) when I was three and so that is where I grew up the majority of my life.”
She recalled: “When we were in Cali we were homeless a lot of the times. [sic] We did not know that, me and my brother, because my parents… they made it fun. We were camping. We were sleeping in the car. You know, we are going to stay in our friend’s house and you kids get to sleep in the bathtub. Yay! You don't think of these things when you're little. It’s fun … your parents are trying to protect you. So, we were out there a lot of the times [sic]. And in the summer we would come back to Arizona. And we would get to eat at good restaurants. And go to church with my grandmother and my aunts…”
Conde stumbled upon a job in property management at 18. In her early 20’s she decided to come back to Arizona because of her deep roots. She brings up how her background has helped shape her involvement in her community.
“Things that you experience prepare you for things that God has planned for you. I saw people coming in to apply for apartments. Families that would come in so excited cause they were going to get an apartment. And them [sic] saying, ‘Well my husband is going to be getting out of prison,’ and me saying, ‘Well it's a crime free property and we can't allow convicted felons here.’ Having families come in and saying, ‘Ok, I have my paystubs, I'm ready’ and me having to say to them, ‘You’re about $150 too short’ and not accepting their application. So seeing all those hurts … the struggle to qualify for standard apartment community living.”
It was through all of this that she felt a calling to do more.
“It was always in my heart to do something with housing, to help families,” she says.
“So my husband and I started.. We purchased a home and we actually did that. We didn't say you had to make 3xs the amount of rent. The credit check, we were like you can just run a credit report and give it to us, that way we can see kind of where you need to work… So if there is something on there that's an eviction, that's something you are going to need to work towards to pay that off…”
“Now the problem is finding them something that is affordable to live in and for me there is so many different categories of homelessness and I believe that every city can pick a category and that is what you focus on.”
Conde mentions families as one of the main focuses of Avondale. “Families, we look at our demographics and we have a lot of families and I think that population is important.”
Council Member Conde’s mother lived on a fixed income, one with limited means. She was ultimately able to find a place that charged rent on a sliding scale. “Those places are few and far between, [or] you can’t get in, there is a waiting list,” Conde adds.
Code has had her real estate license since 2002, and opened a housing ministry in 2011.
“I'm all in. I love doing what I do. And I know I didn't put myself here because I wanted to be a stewardess or ballerina,” she says with a big laugh and a smile on her face.
She mentions that while canvassing the neighborhoods, she talked with many people across the city and shared what she notices in the community.
“I’ve experienced a lot of loss. I've talked to people who have experienced loss personally. Whether it's a spouse or family members, I think the important part of us as elected officials is bringing hope to people… and letting them know they're not alone.”
COVID has definitely made its impact known across the state. And the loss of lives and livelihoods in the west valley is just starting to be felt by a quiet yet marked absence. But, things are slowly coming back to life and the energy that has fueled the unprecedented growth those past few decades never disappeared.
Conde adds lightheartedly, “Find people you can just have fun with. I always say that they're doing the Macarena at 10 am at our senior center, so if you want a lively bunch that’s where you go. I think that's what we’re called to do… not just sit behind these four walls or this beautiful building and read our emails and just do paperwork. This position is very relational. It's very important for us to be out there.”
Conde believes she learns best by being out in the community, serving the direct needs. She has witnessed grandparents raising grandchildren, when situations are tough and different. “Being engaged in the community, understanding what resources are needed, it’s going to be a process. It's going to take all of us and being equipped, knowing what the needs are to bring the resources here. But I think we do a phenomenal job already with our rental assistance, with just so many [programs] that we have. We will get there, but it can’t just be Avondale. It takes all of us.”
As far as city and public projects go, the city council is far from alone in working on housing affordability, helping homeless citizens, and allocating resources for the west valley.
Chris Lopez is the Neighborhood and Family Services Director for Avondale. “A lot of families were having to travel into Phoenix or the east valley,” he says.
“I think most cities in the west valley realize that, and they've really stepped up their game to make sure folks have those resources in their neighborhoods. I really do believe that Avondale is leading the charge in the way of health and human services, but the fantastic thing is that a lot of the west valley cities are following suit and are replicating some of the things that Avondale has done really well. We’ve worked really closely with our colleagues in Surprise, Goodyear, Peoria, and even Glendale to share best practices and support development.”
Chris notes, “We were all working on this issue from different angles. But we all have the same goal in mind. So just the support we have from our council, from the city manager's office, and the communication we have with both private and public sector non-profit organizations, there is a lot of energy moving us forward.”
Chris says that the city has been supportive and has challenged staff to be innovative in finding creative ways to serve those who are experiencing homelessness. “A city taking on a bridge housing program is kind of out of the box and innovative. Typically you see that type of program and service offered by a non-profit organization. (We are going to) work with non-profit providers to offer some of the support services,” he says.
Edith Baltierrez serves as the Assistant Neighborhood & Family Services Director for Avondale. Edith has been in Arizona since 1989, having moved from California. She interned for the City of Avondale, having then gone on to work for other cities in the valley before returning to Avondale. “I like the west valley. I like the municipalities out here. I see the potential for the growth and we want to get as much services and programs out here.”
Edith recalls living in El Mirage back in 2014, “It butted up next to Surprise and I just remember there wasn’t a whole lot out there. I worked in Glendale so I had to buy my groceries and gas up there and do everything I needed to do before I got home.”
“There's a lot more to do now,” she says. “There is still a ways to go, but I remember when there was nothing,” she laughs.
She adds the completion of the western portions of state highway and loops 101 and 303 as another major milestone that has helped fuel the rate of growth.
Chris is from Tucson and has been serving the city of Avondale for just over fifteen years now. And he notes the high level of economic growth and the rise in employers, along with the the addition of rooftops. “There is a lot of new housing. I've seen less agriculture and a whole lot more housing,” he added.
We met with Chris and Edith at the Arizona Complete Health Avondale Resource Center. The multi-million dollar tax-payer funded building was the latest investment the city has made to attract organizations, both public and private, to open and gain traction in the West Valley, and serve residents of many different backgrounds.
Chris notes the importance of meeting with other organizations in the community to open the door for conversations, find out where synergies are possible, and to share and leverage resources. He added that the original concept for the resource center was to offer free or low-cost space for non-profit agency partners to gain a foothold in the west valley in order to provide services, while testing their program model and building clientele.
The new resource center houses a senior activity center, a First Things First office, workforce development services, healthcare aid, housing / utility services, office and conference space for organizations to conduct intakes and offer their services. The building replaces the old facility that formerly housed a city library on Western Ave. in Downtown Avondale. The building became overcrowded and could no longer hold all of the agencies on-site any longer.
It is just the latest example of how the growth challenges have an impact on how community leaders interact with the community.
The Heart of the Issue
There are many variables surrounding the nature of affordability of housing. Rental rates are affected by housing market prices as well as the rental market itself.
Zumper notes that rent is responsive to a rise in home prices. “Rising home valuations price out renters who would otherwise buy, thus keeping them in the rental market longer than they otherwise would, which adds to the demand for rental housing.”
They note how those rises in housing prices, followed by a low available housing stock can affect the rental market. Rent is the stepping stone to home buying, and many families on a low income come from a generational cycle of renting.
Zumper states that “When home prices rise by double digit percentages in a short amount of time like they have during the pandemic, it prices out not only renters who were on the bubble [being able to purchase a home], but renters who were comfortably able to buy a home.”
They also note how these renters have a higher level of income, leading the market to cater and go after the higher income brackets over lower income earners, “This blocks people from cycling out of the rental market, leaving more households renting… but these renters tend to have more income relative to other renters, so it’s leaving dollars in the rental market as well.”
According to Zillow's home value index, property values in the Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale area grew by over 31% from Feb. 2021 to Feb. 2022 and the supply of active listings stands at an all-time low.
Norada Real estate investments cited “year over year, the Greater Phoenix's for-sale inventory is down 12 percent, according to Zillow's statistics.”
Real Estate website Redfin found that in December 2019 the median sale home price for a home in Phoenix was $282k for all homes. By March 2022 the price stood at $447k. Phoenix home prices were up 27.7% compared to the year prior.
Not Enough Starter Homes
Housing cost is linked closely to housing stock, and the housing market is currently experiencing many hurdles growing the available supply.
The real estate and housing policy website Curbed highlights many of these challenges. Zoning / Land Use Ordinances, Cost of Supplies, Labor Shortages, and Transportation are some of the factors making an impact on prices and affordability.
On the matter of zoning, most cities have land use laws. These regulations can vary in the level of rigidness and enforceability. But, they make their effect known on the market.
For instance, common rules are:
These are some examples of how these laws can increase the cost of investment in development (transferring the cost to the market), or take up land that could have been used for adding to the housing supply.
Suburb cities are especially prone to these rules. As existing residents are extremely adverse to development that can affect the character of the neighborhood, or the market valuation of their property.
As a report from Curbed noted:
“Restrictive zoning codes are often an effective tool in the fight against new construction and frequently, densification, helping to suppress housing supply even as demand rises… These restrictions make construction more difficult and more expensive.”
“The rapid rise of these types of regulations—and the corresponding “not in my backyard,” or “NIMBY,” sentiments among residents and landowners—has increased property values, added to the cost of housing, and made it harder for workers to chase opportunity by moving into fast-growing areas with high concentrations of open jobs. Though it’s great for current homeowners, who see the value of their houses rise thanks to a lack of supply, such restrictive practices hurt the wider economy.”
The article went on to state:
“An Obama administration proposal to cut back on such regulations stated:
‘Too many of the communities with the most dynamic growth have pulled up those ladders behind them — often unintentionally — by creating conditions that make it impossible for families to find affordable housing in the same communities where they can find jobs.’
Efforts advanced by pro-development, or YIMBY (“yes in my backyard”), groups to push back against these rules include streamlining permitting processes, eliminating parking requirements (which add to the cost of new construction), encouraging transit-oriented developments, and changing zoning laws to allow for more high-density projects.”
The rising cost of raw materials and a labor shortage highlighted by COVID, but existing long before is another factor.
Trades like carpentry, electric, plumbing, landscaping, and others are facing an aging workforce with not enough workers to replace the labor that is leaving the profession. Add to the rising cost of lumber, and metals, and the cost to build the house itself has risen dramatically.
Once again form Curbed:
“Rising costs of labor and materials mean affordable housing is expensive to build.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics tracks the price of such raw materials with its producer price index, which has risen 23.9 percent since the 2008 financial crisis.
Increased price of undeveloped land in and around urban centers, where work is concentrated and demand is high. Many home builders and developers have focused on the high-end (and higher profit margin) luxury housing market, which means home builders are constructing fewer entry-level and starter homes. When such starter homes are built, their prices are ultimately bid up because demand far exceeds supply.
A persistent labor shortage is driving up costs and cutting into margins for these projects, adding to significant economic pressure for developers to focus on luxury units, which can turn a higher profit.”
Conde says “So for us, again we found ourselves in a time where building costs have gone up and so prices of construction have gone up and in our city people don’t know what we already have here, so we do have a lot of affordable housing units here - we have 3 senior unit developments, we have Madison Heights and there are others that are sliding scale communities. What I do know is that the Mayor and Council have been very vocal to staff about how we can get developers here to bring affordable housing. The truth of the matter is that we had one that came which we did a presentation with… called Norton Circle, and it’s 74 units and it's like the bungalow style. So we are working with them in partnership… we created it more on high density… so that we can add an additional 74 units… it will be close to 150-140 units [sic]… We do try and work with people who come to our city because we know that it’s needed. But again, if you look at our city, you see we do have affordable housing, we just don’t have enough of it. You know, we don’t have developers coming in saying we want to build it, just because I think that the cost of building it is so expensive.”
Chris speaks on affordable housing with, “We’re trying to address that issue on multiple fronts, so we see the need for workforce development, really strengthen that individual or families ability to gain that income to afford quality housing… Helping develop relationships with landlords so they are willing to work with folks that may not have great credit history or great rental history… just to help start that conversion.”
The Homelessness in Arizona Annual Report for 2021, issued by the Arizona Department of Economic Security, a report that studies the number of individuals facing homelessness specifically mentioned the affordability problem that has affected the programs offered to those needing aid.
The report stated, “Historically, permanent housing programs like Rapid Rehousing (RRH), Permanent Supportive Housing, and Housing Choice Vouchers have provided the best outcomes for individuals. However, the lack of affordable housing has stunted the ability to effectively use these options.”
Further reading of the report noted, “The challenge for providers is finding enough affordable rental units on the private market for all those eligible for housing. In the coming months, the state anticipates an influx of people needing to be housed as evictions increase due to the end of moratoriums. The challenge is to be prepared to get people off the streets, out of shelters and into housing.”
And in May of 2022, Maricopa county announced, “[The] Board of Supervisors approved an additional $35 million in funding for the development of affordable housing units across the region and to facilitate home ownership through down payment assistance programs. This latest round of funding raises the total investment by Maricopa County in affordable housing initiatives to $65 million.”
The press release revealing the added investment included:
“With this new funding, we’re not only adding new, affordable inventory to the market, we’re also providing down payment assistance so more residents can own their homes. I’m hopeful this can free up more rentals as well,” said Board of Supervisors Chairman Bill Gates, District 3. “What’s good is that we are not simply throwing money at the problem, but really thinking about what gaps we can fill to help address our region’s affordable housing crisis.”
Edith mentions working with landlords, “There has to be a lot of communication. I think what we’re going to try to do on our end, and have been doing… as the community action program… building the rapport with the property management companies, the landlords. Explaining to them how these programs work because there is a lot of funding, there are vouchers, there [are] stipends, and if they have to do anything extra, or if they get a bad experience with payment. Then, you know they tend to say, I don’t even want to deal with this and so we find value in making sure we are educating them while we are advocating for our clients and making sure that, you know, they are having a good experience though the process. And that we are doing everything we can to make sure everything is going smoothly. So that they are happy, our client is housed, and we continue the relationship. Right?... That's the dream,” she says with a chuckle.
The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) defines affordable housing as “a permanent dwelling that a household can obtain for 30 percent or less of its annual income.”
“The bottom line is that a lot of these landlords are investors and that is what they’re trying to get… the bottom line,” Councilmember Code says.
Transportation makes its impact known on housing prices.
A report from Harvard’s Joint Center on Housing Studies mentioned in the Curbed piece, looked at “household expenditures at varying income levels and showed that as housing costs decreased, the share of income spent on transportation increased by up to five times.”
“Lower housing costs in suburbs and exurbs get offset by increased spending on transportation. Much of this sprawl can be attributed to zoning choices made at the city level that have created expensive downtown business districts,” Curbed stated.
“I think transportation is something that we have been in conversation about, public transportation specifically just because of the growth… and jobs, right? Our streets can only accommodate so many people. We want to keep people in our city.. We have… all the west valley cities talk about live, work and play… we are really trying to create that here,” Conde says.
She adds, “So we get data and we kind of learn more about who’s living in our cities… so, we found that there are a lot of people that are nurses that travel to the east valley. So for us, we’re like hey it makes more sense… it makes sense to us to create a medical corridor… so on McDowell you drive down and we have… our Phoenix Children's Hospital, we have our IMS building, so we are really intentional about the development growth that's happening. And with that we want to make sure that there’s housing for those people that are nurses, that are doctors… jobs are important, making sure we have [a] diverse housing stock to accommodate… So now we are saying we need some more town homes in our community. We need some housing that people can move into that then step up into as their families grow, [and] executive housing… we got a lot of work, but I love it because we’ve got an amazing staff… that's got a great vision…”
Farther North along the Interstate 17 corridor in North Central Phoenix, the former Metrocenter Mall is finding new investment. The mall closed its doors for good in the summer of 2020. The property itself has now found itself in the hands of new owners and a $750 million dollar redevelopment initiative.
Plans are for a high density urban village on the 68-acre property. AZ Big Media reported the property to include “2,600 dwelling units surrounding a town center with 100,000 square feet of service-oriented retail. Future residents will enjoy pet-friendly parks, an amphitheater, pedestrian and bicycle pathways along with other entertainment options.”
A Northern extension of the light rail is currently underway and expected to open in 2024. The plan is to have it terminate at the new urban village.
The developer aims to keep the community's residential units “reasonably priced.”
Chris Anderson, senior managing director for Hines, told AZ Big Media, “We like to call it attainable housing, so the nurse, first responder or service employee can live here just like the business owner or executive. We will have several price points and amenities that a variety of people can enjoy.”
Glendale is also a city that approved a major mixed-use development project, around the popular Westgate District, with a focus on maintaining affordability within the project.
While AZ Big Media reported that there is a degree of skepticism as to the Metrocenter project, Can the residential units succeed? Will they be truly financially attainable to the demographics they claim to want? The fact that developers are sensing the need to include options suited to a more diverse income population can still be looked at as a step in the right direction.
Water Has an Influence… With its Absence.
In drought stricken Arizona, water is also a major factor when adding new development. Water rights and the permits to access that important resource can cost developers in both cash and time. Costs that are passed down to buyers and renters alike.
Many cities use groundwater (which is recharged with monsoon rainwater runoff) or through the canals that travel throughout the state that use water from more northern water sources like Lake Mead, Lake Powell, and the Colorado River.
The two lake sources are at record lows as more major urban centers add stress to the high demand of the dry climates found downriver.
Water is poised to position itself as a major barrier to new development in the coming decades as cities and states are already exploring water conservancy efforts. The effects of water, and its relationship to development, on the housing market, remain unseen as of now.
“We went and visited in 2018… tiny homes in Phoenix, and you know what, I was so happy because these are cheap, that wasn’t the problem… The infrastructure is what costs a lot of money, because they had to bring water in, had to bring the sewer in, and that is where it got costly. And I was like, that doesn't make any sense, you end up paying the same price as a regular home, and then it’s just 500 sq. feet. So, I don’t know what the answer is, I just know that it is going to take a lot of people to make a difference. It’s going to take faith based, it’s going to be non-profits, it’s going to be the city working, working with people, with developers that want to come in….” Conde adds.
The low vacancy rate is also having an effect.
Apartment List reported, “Renters may be occupying units longer because of a patchwork of local and federal eviction moratoria that prevent landlords from evicting anyone who is not current on their payments. In any case, the rapid and inverse changes… highlight how an under-supplied housing market quickly becomes an unaffordable one.”
And the high prices certainly keep people afraid to look at other options.
Conde said, “I have a client that I helped her find a rental property, I don’t even know how long ago that was, maybe seven years ago, and she got in her home and was paying $1200 bucks, and she got a notice from her landlord that its going up, I think it's either $1700 or $1800 a month. Either way, that is how much it is going up, and her thing is that she was the greatest tenant and said, 'I’ve never paid out late…'
It’s unfortunate that they don’t care if you leave now, because they know they can turn around and re-rent it for probably $2200 or $2400, and so it's always my advice that if you can stay and pay the increase, do it.”
The population of Arizona grew 11.9% from 2010 to the 2020 Census. Maricopa County was up 15.8%, and the Phoenix CCD was up 12.1%.
The west valley CCD’s saw a high level of growth, with St. Johns CCD up 19.7%, Gila Bend CCD up 24.7%, Buckeye CCD up 62.9%.
During this time Phoenix also overtook Philadelphia as the nation’s fifth largest city, growing faster than any other major city.
Buckeye and Goodyear (cities that border Avondale to the west) are both among the 10 fastest-growing cities in the nation, with populations of at least 50,000.
Conde mentions the collaborative effort that west valley cities are taking to meet the growing needs and challenges. “We have our pulse on what's happening in the west valley.. So we are very aware of the things that need to happen… and we pretty much have a good relationship with the surrounding cities… For me it's not like, oh dang, Goodyear got this - it's like, ahh man they got this, I'm going to go over there - and kind of it’s like for me that's how it is. For me it's if they succeed, we succeed, right?”
Tina says “That’s what I always say, we serve greater together… So it's going to take elected officials, it's going to take nonprofit organizations, and our faith based community, and I love it because there is certain things that a faith based community is going to be able to provide an individual or family that maybe we can’t as a city but if we fill in all of those gaps, we will just have a much healthier community, that for me is important and the key thing is addressing those underlying issues. Yes we have a problem with the housing, but the person needs to get healed from whatever it is they are dealing with.”
A Focus on Healing and Recovery
Drug Addiction has hit the state hard in recent years. Opioid and Methamphetamine dependency has affected a large number of those who find themselves living on the street.
The Arizona State of Homeless Report for 2021 stated: “Compounded by unemployment, physical and behavioral health issues, domestic violence, and substance abuse, homelessness continues to impact both rural and urban communities statewide.”
Between January to December of 2021, the number of homeless individuals in the state is estimated to have increased by nearly 30 percent.
There are also many trends that leaders have noticed in the population seeking help. And as to what is available to address those trends, more education and sharing information among the organizations themselves, both public and private, is of top priority.
“It's such a complicated issue. I think there are a variety of factors… I think substance abuse comes into play… affordable housing… employment opportunities… I think it's just kind of the perfect storm… and you compound that with COVID… its unprecedented times… I’ve seen a big regional approach. There is a lot of conversations happening between the county, the state… collaborative developing solutions… there is a bit of resources [sic] available currently. The challenge is going to be figuring out how to sustain these programs once those A.R.P.A. and CARES Act dollars dry up,” Chris says.
Edith and Chris also mention addressing underlying issues while not penalizing or hindering growth and being able to achieve the goal of every program: independence and breaking cycles.
Chris says, “You’re speaking our language.”
Edith follows with a laugh.
Chris continues, “Both Edith and I, as really the leaders of the department, that's been our vision… creating a culture where we’re hiring folks that have that heart for service. And we want our residents or clients first… everybody on our team going the extra mile just to make sure we are doing everything we can to help folks when they are in crisis.”
With case management being of importance… “the navigation… really making sure we are helping folks develop a plan to be successful, getting connected to the resources and… development opportunities so that they can escape poverty and find gainful employment… So that case management I think is the most critical price… our communities have great community action programs, but oftentimes it's just the band-aid. And it pulls folks out of crisis but how do we follow up on that and take that opportunity to… to let them know that there is support…” Chris says.
Edith notes financial literacy as a key in “helping people learn how to budget… manage needs versus wants… how to be able to make that transition without feeling [fearful]… build a safety net, so that they don't feel that they're going to fall through… it is a scary jump, so helping them with that…”
Conde notes, “When we have families that are in Section 8, they can work - some of them can work. We need to train these families to not be fearful, but provide them the tools that they need to get out of that cycle, so that way that frees up that house.”
For Council Member Conde, her thought process is, “We can have a resource center full of resources but what good does it do us if we’re not sharing that information… and that's what I'm saying. For me I love the interfaith council because I'm able… we have people in churches, church members there, we have non-profits there, and I just invite regular community members, if you want to come see what it is, because they are going to get all of these resources and they are going to share it and at the same time I’m going to get to hear about the resources we don’t have.”
Conde places a high value on hearing from a broad set of voices.
On areas in which the community can step in, Chris says, “I think really just… being advocates for a non-profit organization, donating and volunteering where you can… being vocal about the needs you see in the community.”
But while the issues facing the community seem daunting and numerous in size and effect, most everyone we talk to in the west carries an optimism not seen in other parts of the valley.
Tina ends our discussion by saying, “We can do greater together… That is what I am optimistic about. Things [are] opening back up, because it’s open now, I get to get out there, that is what I love to do the best is connect, and engage and listen, come up with the solution and ideas with people like you guys. That’s what it’s about. COVID had us all siloed, now it’s time to break free and hit the ground running. We have this opportunity, something is happening… and I feel like it's an opportunity to do better, I look at those things that have happened and are happening, and it’s an opportunity to do better - and that is what I see it as.”
“There is just a lot of potential here. You know. There is a lot of potential to do a lot of things. And we're getting the support we need… and we know we need these things… so we are banding together to bring those programs and services out here. And it's exciting to see… you know I came from the City of Surprise where they have a resource center… because they emulated from Avondale and… when I was in Surprise, Peoria saw what Surprise was doing and then they started talking to Avondale… so… the momentum that we have out here, that's really promising…” Edith ends with a smile.
Lotus Loft (PRMI) does not endorse or campaign on behalf of any political candidate or political cause. The views expressed in this article are for informative use only.
This article was written by the staff of Lotus Loft / PRMI.
Some of the quotes made by Avondale City Officials in this article, were edited from its original form by the City of Avondale Communications Office (a public office) to be more concise, add context, and fix grammatical errors.
Lotus would like to thank those who sat down with us to give their perspective. We appreciate your time.