In ‘war on renters,’ landlords fight push for affordable housing


in a full town hall meetingone resident after another appeared before the City Council of the city of Surprise, in suburban Phoenix, pleading with officials to block the construction of an apartment complex for seniors and low-income renters, yelling, interrupting and arguing about crime and traffic congestion.

Among the crowd was Nate Pomeroy, a leader in the effort to lock down the apartment complex. He moved to Surprise in 2018 from Scottsdale after years in California to retire and hoped it would be the last house he would live in.

Now, he’s not sure whether to stay. He worries the apartment complex will increase traffic and change the character of the area, which is made up of sprawling subdivisions of Spanish-style homes that sell for between $500,000 and $700,000.

The heated debate in Surprise, population 150,000, is echoed in communities large and small across the country, as local officials have pushed to increase the supply of homes with tiny backyard bungalows to subsidized apartment complexes. in response to rising rents and home prices since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s just going to make this a very high-density area. It’s really going to change the look of where we’re at, and people aren’t happy about it,” Pomeroy said. “The City Council and the city administration have not listened effectively. They’re going to build and build and build, and it won’t be the last place I’ll live anymore.»

Vocal groups of homeowners say they fear what the changes could mean for their communities. Increasingly, they are fighting back with lawsuits, referendums, appeals to state representatives and recall elections in a battle to prevent multi-family housing in their largely suburban neighborhoods.

“It’s the same buzzwords no matter where you are. Some are more veiled than others about whether they will say outright that tenants are second-class citizens,” said Owen Metz, a senior vice president at Dominium, an affordable housing developer working on the proposed Surprise apartment complex. . «It’s not everywhere, but there seems to be a growing war against tenants.»

Homeowners have long fought new development (the acronym NIMBY, or «not in my backyard,» has been around for decades), but the battles have grown fiercer in recent years amid a wave of apartment construction spreading outside city centers. The debates have also taken on a new urgency as rising home prices push out working-middle-class workers and lead to a rise in homelessness, affordable housing advocates said.

Over the past 15 years, the rate at which new homes and apartments are being built has failed to keep up with demand, in part due to the lingering effects of the 2008 housing market crash, said Jeff Tucker, a senior economist at Zillow. that he estimates the US has a shortage of more than 4 million homes.

Awais Azhar, a housing advocate in Austin, Texas, who is a member of the city’s Planning Commission, said, “That cost pressure that coastal cities felt has now reached our suburbs. He has traveled to our rural areas. Affordability is truly a crisis of the United States. There is a lot of pressure and angst from local advocates and leaders, because while unaffordability has been an issue for a while, we have never seen this level of crisis in the way we are seeing it now.”

The housing shortage worsened during the pandemic as remote work and a desire for more space led to a population shift toward less densely populated suburban areas and relatively lower-cost states, such as Texas, Arizona, and Colorado. In turn, house prices have risen more than 30% and the rents go up more than 25% nationwide from 2020.

The Phoenix area has experienced some of the largest housing cost increases in the country, with rents up 41% since the start of 2020 and home prices up more than 50%, according to Zillow. At the same time, homelessness in the region has increased 36%.

In Surprise, an outer Phoenix suburb nestled against the desert, residents have been fighting the city and the developer for more than a year, first with an attempt to get the project on the ballot and then in the courts.

At the center of the fight are 388 apartments for people earning up to $39,300 for individuals and $56,100 for families of four with rents ranging from $1,052 for one bedroom to $1,458 for three bedrooms. The proposed development, on what was once a ranch, would also include 211 senior housing units.

City officials who support the development said it could help provide housing for workers essential to the community, such as teachers who earn an average salary of $42,000.

The project would be financed by a federal government. low income housing tax credit that would offset some of the costs and allow the developer to offer below-market rents. Unlike government-owned and operated public housing projects built for low-income residents decades ago, the vast majority of affordable housing built today is owned and managed by private developers using the tax credit.

Pomeroy said she understands the need for more affordable housing in Surprise and knows that more development in her neighborhood is inevitable. But he doesn’t think the project fits the “look and feel” of the area and questions whether the road and water infrastructure exists to serve so many new residents.

“We are not necessarily against affordable housing. We understand that this is politically very unpopular, because as soon as you talk about it, we will be labeled NIMBY by local liberals, media etc.,” she said. «So now all of a sudden we’re back on our heels saying, ‘Wait a minute, we’re not bad people,’ and then they just yell at you and all that crap.»

Homeowners are increasing their opposition not only to housing that would provide below-market rents, but also to any attempts by city officials and developers to increase housing supply by building multi-family projects, whether large apartment complexes or smaller duplexes, in areas now dominated by single-family homes. family homes.

In Austin, residents filed a lawsuit to block the city from updating its land code to allow more apartment buildings and multi-family projects, significantly slowing a much-needed increase in the city’s housing supply, Azhar said. Median rents in the Austin area are up 28% and the sales price of a home is up nearly 50% since the beginning of 2020, according to data from Zillow.

In Colorado, an effort by Democratic Gov. Jared Polis to push for more multi-family housing units across the state failed this year, and residents have continued to push locally.

In the Denver suburb of Englewood, residents are looking to remember the mayor and several City Council members for their support for more multi-family housing, including changes that would allow people to build smaller houses on their properties called accessory dwelling units, said Kurt Suppes, who is organizing the recall.

“All these people who bought these houses so many years ago are now suddenly facing big changes in their neighborhoods and the potential loss of a lot of the equity that they have in their homes,” said Suppes, who has lived in his Englewood home for 40 years. years. «No one is going to want to buy your house except the developers.»

New York Governor Kathy Hochul recently backed down from a statewide strategy to build 800,000 homes over the next decade that would have included more development in suburban New York City after swift bipartisan opposition from members of the state legislature.

The debate has also been taking place in Washington. President Joe Biden has called for the construction of more affordable housing, having reIeased a pla last year to provide incentives for states and cities to build hundreds of thousands of affordable housing units over the next three years. That contrasts with former President Donald Trump, who repeattotedly warned while in office that Democrats would destroy suburbia with low-income housing that would bring crime and drive down home values.

Resistance from homeowners and elected officials has caused developers to abandon projects and delay construction, in some cases adding a year or more to project timelines, said Dan Klocke, project development manager for the Affordable-home builder Gorman & Co. has also caused developers to avoid undertaking projects in some cities that have faced opposition in the past, he said.

“The risks are high. All that extra time for not just one project but hundreds of projects slows down the amount of housing that gets built over time in your state,” Klocke said. «When you continue to do that on project after project, you build a lot fewer housing units, and it’s basic supply and demand. The less supply, the higher the demand, the higher the price. So, there goes your affordability.»

While residents have so far been unable to stop development in Surprise, opposition from residents and a lack of support from city officials in nearby Buckeye contributed to the same developer’s decision to cancel plans to build 300 subsidized apartment units in the city, Metz said.

Local officials said they saw an unprecedented level of opposition from residents, who raised fears about crime to water shortages.

“I don’t think I’ve gotten more complaints about a specific project than that project. Our inboxes were full,” Mayor Eric Orsborn said.

Like Surprise, Buckeye sits on the edge of the desert in the outer ring of the Phoenix metropolitan area, and its population has also skyrocketed. In 2000, it had just 6,500 residents, half of them inmates at the local prison, and now it has a population of more than 100,000, Orsborn said.

But more large-scale housing projects are inevitable for the community given the rate of growth, and are something residents will have to learn to accept, Buckeye City Council member Clay Goodman said.

“You can’t close the door after you get here,” Goodman said. «There’s a lot of growth coming your way, and as advice, we’re trying to do it the right way.»

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