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Tucson leaders alarmed by bill in Legislature that would limit city affordable housing work

A bill in the Arizona Senate that would drastically limit a city’s ability to create affordable housing alarmed the Tucson City Council during their meeting on Wednesday.

Mayor Regina Romero said this year’s state Legislature is considering a host of bills that conflict with Tucson’s goals, including raising the minimum wage and reducing gun violence.

Senate Bill 1446 would take away the power of Arizona cities and towns to purchase and rehabilitate land for housing development areas, a key part of creating affordable housing. The bill was introduced by Republican Sen. Wendy Rogers late last month.

Midtown Councilman Steve Kozachik called the bill out during Wednesday’s meeting, saying “Really? We would be allowed to play no role in providing housing within our community?... holy crap.”

“Who would pick up that burden? The state?” he said. He also mocked the idea that the private sector would be able to take on additional efforts to provide housing as a result of the bill, sarcastically saying “Yeah, they’re doing a wonderful job so far.”

East Side Councilman Paul Cunningham recommended that Tucson residents call Rogers to let her know how difficult it is to find affordable housing right now. Nearly all the calls that city ward offices receive right now have to do with housing and homelessness, Cunningham said, and the city is working hard to solve that housing crisis.

“There’s people who call because they’re currently without residence, there are people who call because they are currently being evicted. There are also people who call because they have a problem with people who are without residence running around their neighborhood,” he said. “(the city) is working actually pretty hard to try and come up with creative solutions to this crisis.”

Tucson always finds itself fighting the state Legislature, Cunningham said, but it hasn’t made it any less frustrating.

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“We’ve got to be the only city in the county that has a state all the time and a county part of the time that works against our interests. We’ve got to be the only one in the country,” he said. “This is unbelievable.”

Romero, who reacted to the bill by saying “Oh my goodness,” pointed out that there are several bills that make it harder for Tucson to carry out its policies. She mentioned HCR 2031, which would prohibit local minimum wage and benefit laws, including those passed by voters. Tucson voters passed Prop. 206 in November to increase the city’s minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025.

“Tucson would be one of those cities where they could actually go back and dismantle what the voters of Tucson have voted on,” she said.

She also highlighted HB 2447, which would allow the concealed carry of firearms on college campuses, and HB 2701, which would reduce taxes for construction contracting. The latter would take a bite out of the city’s budget if it were to pass, Romero said. Similarly, the mayor worried that SB 1496, which reduces sales tax for online sellers, would hurt city coffers, especially as shoppers have moved online since the pandemic began.

These bills are all in early stages, and some have strong opposition from the League of Arizona Cities and Towns, Romero said. Still, she said, it doesn’t make it any easier for Tucson to stomach the current state legislative agenda, saying “it’s a horrible time for preemption and cities and towns throughout Arizona.”

“It goes on and on and on,” she said. “We’re not even talking about reproductive justice bills or other homelessness bills. They’re just thinking of how they can tie the hands of cities and towns and just dumping that as their legislative agenda.”

Bennito L. Kelty is TucsonSentinel.com’s IDEA reporter, focusing on Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access stories, and a Report for America corps member supported by readers like you.

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