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Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The rising cost of keeping a roof over our heads in Arizona

Affordable housing, including trailer parks, has become one casualty of the Valley's increasingly rapid development. In the Arizona Republic today, Lisa Nicita writes about the effect rising land prices have had on available lots. She reports that the number of trailer parks in the Valley has dropped by around ten percent in the last year, while the population, on the other hand, has skyrocketed. Last week, the US Census Bureau issued a report detailing a record influx of population to the state last year. Now counting around six million residents, the state added almost 200,000 new arrivals this year alone, which, at 3.5 percent easily tops the already high 2.5 to 2.9 percent growth rates of the preceding five years.
[Sandra] Naegele, a Queen Creek town employee, said she'll have to move to Mesa or Apache Junction if [the park where she lives] closes, because there's nothing else in her price range in Queen Creek.

"This community is not staying (the same)," she said. "It's good, there's beautiful homes and all that, but the price ranges are not going to be for the people that have lower incomes. That part is too bad because some of them have only known here."
Further complicating the issue, some trailers in these parks may not be fit to move, and the costs of moving can total many thousands of dollars. Moving can also damage the homes, and some older trailers may not be allowed in new parks.
"It's been really hard for a lot of the families in there," Naegele said. "The kids worry. The parents worry. At first I was real apprehensive because suddenly you're going to be relocating and you don't know when or how."

Sanokai Village, one of the last low-income housing options available in fast-growing Queen Creek, is the latest of several mobile-home parks in the Valley to be swept away by a hot real estate market. Increasing land values have prompted park owners from Mesa to Scottsdale to Florence to sell, leaving residents in the lurch, looking for somewhere new.
The Queen Creek city manager, Cynthia Seelhammer, expressed little sympathy and was vague with any solution. "It's a loss of something historic that was beneficial for many families. It's a loss of affordable housing. But, we're hoping that over time we'll be able to replace it with an alternative."

The Arizona Daily Sun reports that apartments, as well, have increasingly become unaffordable for working class people.
Assuming only 30 percent of wages should go toward rent, a Flagstaff renter would need to earn $17.44 an hour at a full-time job to afford a two-bedroom apartment here. Affording a one bedroom apartment would take $15.44 an hour, or about $32,000 a year.

But the survey showed the average wage of renters in Flagstaff is $8.83 an hour.

Put another way, the gap between what landlords are charging for one- and two-bedroom units and what renters can afford in Flagstaff amounts to hundreds of dollars a month.
In Phoenix, where the gap between the actual and recommended income of renters is not as stark, the difference still amounts to nearly $2.50 an hour. Of course, minimum wage workers are nearly locked out in that case, and in many small cities, as the Associated Press reported last week, even government workers have had to buy or rent out of town, often many miles away, just to find affordable housing.
Firefighters, police officers, government employees and service workers can't afford the area's housing, either. Many live in small towns outside Flagstaff, where housing is less expensive.

"People in Phoenix and Tucson aren't the only ones making long commutes to find housing they can afford," said Sheila Harris, director of the Arizona Department of Housing. "It's not uncommon for people to live in Williams and work in Flagstaff. But that commute can be long and hazardous, particularly when roads are icy."

The Housing Commission's report was based on 2004 data, and the problem has worsened in 2005 as most Arizona communities have seen double-digit jumps in home prices.

People working in Lake Havasu are living in Mohave Valley and driving 100 miles round-trip to their jobs.

Second-home mecca and resort community Sedona has the highest home prices outside metro Phoenix. Much of the work force needed to run the town doesn't earn enough to afford a home there. Employees at Sedona resorts and restaurants had been buying homes in Prescott, almost 70 miles away, but now housing prices have soared there, too.
Even with the market showing some signs of cooling off, home prices in the Phoenix area jumped 55 percent last year. The Arizona Daily Sun reports that "The median housing price in Flagstaff this year jumped 40 percent from 2004, topping $320,000, while the city's median family income of somewhere between $55,000 and $60,000 failed to keep pace." Racism and sexism further limits access to and the ability to afford housing, and women and people of color suffer disproportionately because of housing discrimination, wage disparities and the challenges of single motherhood, among other factors.

While the shrinking availability of land for development is one part of the problem, absentee landlords and investors comprise another. The Wall Street Journal reported on December 7th of this year that "as many as 30 percent of properties for sale [in Phoenix] are currently owned by investors," those people who already own at least one home and were purchasing another to rent or sell. It's a scandal for landlords, barely tolerable in general, to own multiple dwellings at the expense of poor and working class folks - many of whom build and service those very homes.

Meanwhile, it's worth remembering that things have gotten worse for many of the workers who can afford homes. The Arizona Republic ran an article in October declaring that,
[t]he number of people across greater Phoenix at least three months behind on their mortgages and in danger of losing their homes climbed a staggering 50 percent during the past two years, hitting a record 14,178 in 2002. The foreclosure rate is rising so rapidly that it's outpacing record increases in home sales and prices. So far this year, home foreclosures climbed an additional 10 percent.

"Too many Valley homeowners are living too close to the line," said Jay Butler, director of the Arizona Real Estate Center. "Wages haven't gone up, but insurance, health care and just about every other cost for a household has."
The Valley's unemployment rate is hovering around 5.4 percent. Two years ago, it was below 3 percent.

"It's scary," said Rick Mason of Labor's Community Service Agency. "People lose their job and then their home."

Many of the area's laid-off workers have gone through their savings or severances and are struggling to make mortgage payments."Lately, I have seen people lose $500,000 houses because one income goes away, and people lose $150,000 homes because someone gets sick or their car breaks down," said Carol Jones of the Valley firm Foreclosure Solution Services.
There is some hope that the cooling housing market will serve to improve this situation some, but without an increase in the power of the working class to extract wage and other concessions from the capitalists (and eventually to overthrow and expropriate them entirely), long-term prospects remain dim. We can't rely on the market to solve the housing crisis.

Under capitalism, the system recognizes no inherent right to housing. Further, those who do own property unfairly derive from it the right to establish an authoritarian relationship over those without it, such are renters (1)(2), employees, customers and citizens (1) (2) in general, backed up by the further authority of the police and government. A movement that seeks to permanently solve the housing crisis must set as its goal the abolition of capitalism and the establishment of a right to housing based on self-administration and cooperation.


Anonymous Blue Cross of California said...

Great blog I hope we can work to build a better health care system as we are in a major crisis and health insurance is a major aspect to many.

Fri Jan 20, 12:55:00 AM 2006  

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