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Arizona lawmakers from both parties support affordable housing bill but wonder why Gov. Hobbs hasn't signed it

Tucson Democrat Analise Ortiz, one of the leaders of the movement to override some zoning laws, details Tuesday how she believes it will create more affordable housing in Arizona.
Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer
Tucson Democrat Analise Ortiz, one of the leaders of the movement to override some zoning laws, details Tuesday how she believes it will create more affordable housing in Arizona.

By Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services

PHOENIX -- A bipartisan group of lawmakers is pressuring a reluctant Gov. Katie Hobbs to sign legislation they believe will lead to more affordable housing in Arizona.
Rep. Analise Ortiz, D-Tucson, said Tuesday she believes HB 2570, sent Monday to the governor, is the only viable legislation that actually would provide some price relief to those who want to have a starter home. And that, she said, includes her.
"I have been a renter my entire adult life,'' she said. And Ortiz said that, despite working full-time her entire adult life, she doesn't have enough for a down payment on what developers are building.
"In my community, people like me are tired of being told the only way we can have an affordable place to live is if we rent it -- and rents are no longer affordable -- or if we have government subsidized housing,'' she said. "We deserve that same opportunity to own a home. And the governor needs to recognize that.''
House Majority Leader Leo Biasiucci, R-Lake Havasu City, said there's nothing in the legislation overriding certain local regulations that's terribly radical.
"Should the city tell you you can't have a carport (instead of a garage) if you want a carport?'' he said. "Should the city tell you that you can't have a certain type of roof, that it has to be shingle instead of tile?''
All that, Biasiucci said, should be decisions left to homeowners.
"This is when the price goes up,'' he said. "This is when regulation gets in the way.''
And Sen. Anna Hernanzez, D-Phoenix, said there would be another benefit: getting rid of the cookie-cutter homes and creating more neighborhoods where each house is individual.
But the real heart of the measure is not about amenities and design. It's about zoning.
It would spell out that, for new developments of more than five acres, cities cannot require a minimum lot size of more than 1,500 square feet in any area zoned for single-family homes.
Also gone would be minimum square footage or dimensions for any single-family home as well as requirements to set back a house more than 10 feet from the front or back lot line or more than 5 feet on either side.
Now the future of the entire package rests with the governor.
She has until this coming Monday to sign or veto the measure. And if she does neither, it becomes law without her signature.
Gubernatorial press aide Christian Slater was noncommittal, saying his boss is still studying the measure. But the governor herself, speaking with reporters last week, provided a laundry list of concerns.
"What I have been very clear about is that, when it comes to housing, I want to see a package that is negotiated and has bipartisan support and is a compromise with local jurisdictions,'' Hobbs said.
It was pointed out to her that the bill does have bipartisan support.
A total of 15 of the 29 House Democrats voted for the measure. So did half the Senate Democrats.
What that leaves is the opposition of the League of Arizona Cities and Towns which represents the 91 incorporated communities in the state.
Tom Belshe, the organization's executive director, said his organization is willing to negotiate on "process things'' that would shorten the time frames that cities have to review plans and provide the necessary approvals. And he said there already are places in many cities where builders can construct duplexes, triplexes and fourplexes.
And changes in zoning and density?
"This is not what our constituents are telling us, people that live in those neighborhoods,'' Belshe said.
And that becomes the heart of the divide: people who are renters who want affordable homes and those who already have homes.
Backing the cities are groups like the Neighborhood Coalition of Greater Phoenix.
"This bill would allow a mishmash of construction in existing neighborhoods, posing a threat to existing homes' property values and residents' quality of life,'' said Neal Haddad, the group's president. "We urge Gov. Hobbs to veto it and to not throw neighborhoods under the bus.''
Hobbs made it clear that, bipartisan support or not, the objections from the cities will weigh heavily in her decision.
"I think that our local elected officials are the closest to their constituents and best positioned to make those decisions,'' she said.
Hernandez sniffed at the governor's conclusion that city officials know best.
"Last time I checked, I'm knocking on the same doors that the city council is knocking on,'' she said.
"And I am hearing that affordability is the top of mind for our people,'' Hernandez said. "They are worried about can they even attain home ownership.''
Hobbs, however, maintains that what she wants is "legislation that is negotiated as a compromise, that everyone can agree on that will get us to a solution.''
That, however, isn't going to happen -- and not just because the bill is now on her desk.
Belshe acknowledged that his organization has refused to even negotiate any state-mandated changes in how many homes can be built on a property and associated issues like setbacks.
"Zoning is something that we cannot support,'' he said. "And we told them from the beginning.''
Sen. Theresa Hatathlie, D-Tuba City, said opposition from Belshe's organization has no meaning to her.
"They're just lobbyists,'' she said. "Somebody's got to advocate for those individuals who I can identify with, who are able to provide a home for their families.''
Senate President Warren Petersen was more direct in his dismissal of opposition from the cities and his urging of the governor to ignore it.
"We're counting on her not being a shield for the League of Cities and Towns,'' he said. "We're counting on her making an independent decision to do the right thing.''
Rep. Sarah Ligouri, D-Phoenix, said she has heard from developers who would like to build more affordable "starter'' homes if the legal barriers that now exist can be removed.
"But right now they can't, mostly because land is in low supply and priced high,'' she said.
"And zoning skews it, so to recover costs you need to build at the premium end,'' Ligouri said. "The American dream may be to own a home, but beginning with one that is smaller is almost impossible
she said.
Belshe, however, said price is determined by by more than zoning.
"There are problems with labor,'' he said. "There are problems with supply chain.''
And, ultimately, there's the question of whether what is in HB 2570 will lead to more affordable homes.
Biasiucci said there is proof in places like his home town where the lowest price for single-family homes has been in the $400,000 to $500,000 range. Now, he said, the city is allowing more homes onto a single lot, up to six or more.
And those homes, Biasiucci said, are being marketed in the $200,000 range because city officials decided to try something different.
"They understood that we have to do something to help our bartenders, our teachers, our firemen, our police, all the people that make this state work, all the people we know that need homes so they don't have to drive 40, 50 miles away,'' he said.
HB 2570 is just one of the housing measures that also could wind up on the governor's desk.
On Tuesday the House gave final approval to HB 2721. It would require cities of at least 75,000 to allow for the development of duplexes, triplexes, fourplexes, fiveplexes and townhomes on all lots zoned for single-family residential use. Proponents say this is aimed at providing more "middle housing,'' something more than starter homes but more affordable than single-family homes.
The 36-18 vote sends that to the Senate.
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