Portela: The one policy discussion we always avoid — housing
Andres Portela is a Democrat challenging City Councilman Steve Kozachik in the primary election:
Tucson, let's talk for a minute. At this time, we don't have any City Council members who understand housing. We have environmentalists, business developers, tech experts, community champions, and "equity" advocates, but not one that understands housing policy. It can be challenging to be grounded and prioritize an issue if that isn't where you draw your knowledge from. So as someone who has worked on federal fair housing and community development, here are my thoughts:
We can't keep treating our housing crisis from a supply-side form of thinking because we will never prioritize affordability if we do it that way. When I say supply-side, I am referring to the concept of prioritizing getting more housing stock without focusing on what it will take to afford to buy or rent it.
When I worked for the city, these conversations often took place without input from the community and builders. At the end of these conversations, the resolve is often "there is no one solution" or "a silver bullet," which clearly states the obvious but is a deflection for homebuyers and renters.
Let's cut through all of the noise; there are solutions. We just need to be more creative getting there, but let's acknowledge the facts before doing that.
Here is where we are right now. Local rental costs have jumped 7.1 percent from last year, the rental vacancy rate is 3.6 percent, the eviction moratorium ends in a month, and homes can't stay in supply which is driving the cost to purchase. All of this is with very little city of Tucson interference or guidance, so it leaves opportunity. The apparent answers focus on rent controls, inclusionary zoning, parking minimum removals, and changing codes. The state Legislature prevents most of those, so let's use the power of the pulpit and our city lobbyists to advocate for policy changes. Most of the proposed solutions above aren't sustainable from a short-term/long-term framing or even environmentally, but all we tend to hear is how we cant do any of them to address affordability but still no solutions.
Tucson hear me out; we have so little time to get this right.
What if we intentionally focused on affordability and prioritized community engagement. I know it's a strange concept and something we very rarely see. Let's ask city of Tucson staff, neighborhood experts, community leaders who understand policy, and policymakers to help solve the issues of the affordability shortage.
What if we used some of the American Rescue Plan to purchase old buildings throughout the city and retrofitted them to host families long-term? Meaning, the city would buy a structure that would otherwise be a vacant commercial building and be back in the business of owning and managing property.
Accessory Dwelling Units are a viable option but don't address affordability. However, they have to be done in conjunction with potential bonds, Community Block Development Grants, focus on neighborhood plans in historic neighborhoods, or collaborate with community leaders to understand its feasibility. As I knock on doors, there isn't an absolute comfort with the uncertainty of ADU's. For example, last night during the ADU town hall, a neighbor said, "So, someone can have a three-bedroom ADU in their backyard? Who is going to stop them from making it a live-in Airbnb?"
The simplest solution is doing what some cities have already done: ask the community through renderings what would be feasible in their neighborhood. The intent would be to preserve aesthetics and accomplish the goal of development with purpose.
This slight shift could allow our community the voice they desire, increased affordability because the renderings will already be available, and preserve the neighborhood's character because no one in Tucson wants to be another Phoenix. It will also address neighborhood plans that have existed since the 1980s and prevent communities to get grocery stores as well as
When communities are developed on purpose, it encourages responsible infill that doesn't force our neighbors out and looks at potential food insecurity, access to safe and affordable transportation, and mindfully solidifies our commitment to our environment.
Can you imagine having a conversation about responsible development from the community's needs and not what's good at this moment?
These are rather specific examples of the immediate changes; however, the only way we can make Tucson more affordable, accessible, and liveable for our community is to take a holistic approach. Holistic means collaboration through planning for Housing, Opportunity, Mobility, and the Environment and prioritizing our home.