whom should we try to create affordable housing?
From the Red Rock Review's
monthly opinion column
Editorís Note: Chevalier is the Chairman of Sedonaís
Art and Culture Commission. He is a retired Senior Executive
of a major retailer where he was responsible for law and personnel.
He holds a Degree in Government from Columbia College, a Law
Degree from Columbia Law School and Business Degrees from
both Columbia and Harvard Business Schools.
Thirty five percent of the people who live in Sedona
can not afford the housing they live in.
This conclusion was arrived at by use of a formula for
affordable housing commonly used in housing planning. This
formula defines affordable housing as housing that costs no
more than 30% of a householdís gross monthly income. In addition
to the people living in Sedona in houses they canít afford,
there are many people who work in Sedona but do not live here,
perhaps because they know they canít afford to live in Sedona.
Sedonaís government has decided that the cost of housing
is a subject that needs to be examined. To that end it has
appointed an eight person Housing Advisory Committee to help
develop new recommendations for Sedona housing. This committee,
which is being assisted by a professional consultant, has
met and the process has started with a housing survey.
Thinking about this subject has made me realize that
creating more affordable housing in Sedona is far more complicated
then it first appeared to be. In preparing this column, I
talked with some of the people concerned with this subject.
I asked them some basic questions, which I am repeating here:
1. For whom should we be trying to create affordable
housing? No one that I have talked with thinks it is feasible
to create affordable housing for low income households in
Sedona. In determining eligibility, a benchmark that might
be used by the City is households with income between 60%
and 80% of Sedonaís medium income. My best guess is that in
Sedona this would mean households with annual income between
approximately $24,000 and $32,000.
2. Where does the money come from to build affordable
housing? The good news is that some of this money can come
from a) federal grants from agencies such as HUD, b) from
tax credits that are part of the IRS income tax credit program
and c) from private foundations. In addition, the City could
decide to waive some or all housing development fees.
3. What would affordable housing look like? I have been
told that it could be attractive (there are good-looking architectural
designs available), but I also believe it would be dense housing.
By dense, I mean anywhere from seven detached units per acre
to 19 multifamily attached units per acre. If I am right,
this is where affordable housing collides with our community
planís commitment to open space.
4. Where in Sedona do you put affordable housing? It
is extremely unlikely that forest land could be used for private
development. US Forest Service Plan Amendment 12 prohibits
it (with some escape clauses) and the City of Sedona Strategic
Plan opposes it. So where then? Some affordable housing may
fit within current zoning. If it doesnít, then affordable
housing proposals must address a significant reality, which
is that building affordable housing in any quantity would
require current zoning to be changed to permit more dense
housing. This has made me realize that if the City of Sedona
is going to encourage a meaningful increase in the amount
of new affordable housing, then citizens (and visitors) will
have to live with a reduction in open space. This reality
forced me to rethink my position on this issue.
The main argument supporting affordable housing that
I have read and agree with is that the lack of affordable
housing in Sedona forces long commutes on people we want to
work here, but who canít afford to live here. This, in turn,
lessens the quality time at home for these commuters, lessens
their ties to Sedona and increases use of our roads leading
into and out of Sedona. To this, I would add that there are
certain key jobs in Sedona that I believe the community would
particularly benefit from having the job holders living here.
I think it would be to our advantage to have Sedonaís
firefighters, police and teachers living in Sedona. In the
event of a major fire or major police emergency, the closer
these defenders live to the emergency, the faster we can get
a quick, large response. Where teachers live can also be important
to our younger citizens and their parents. The nearer Sedonaís
teachers live to their students, the greater the opportunity
for after-school student-teacher interface.
No doubt some of you have job holders in other job categories
you believe should also be included as key individuals we
should encourage to live in our community. The problem is
that people in these jobs generally are not paid high salaries
and may find it tough to find housing in Sedona at a cost
they can afford.
There is a way to make it easier for Sedona firefighters,
police and teachers to live in Sedona that would not reduce
open space. The Fire District, the City of Sedona and the
School District, respectively, could change the compensation
structure for those professionals who are under their jurisdiction
by adding a meaningful financial housing subsidy for any regular
employees who decide to live in the community where they work.
This could increase our taxes, which is never pleasant or
easy, but perhaps we should consider it as a better option
than giving up open space.
As I think about the subject of affordable housing,
I wonder how many of the people we may target for new affordable
housing will actually move into it if it is built. The fact
that we build new affordable housing may not result in relocating
many of the 35% of households now living in housing that cost
more than 30% of their income. It also may not result in relocating
many of the nonresidents who commute to work in Sedona.
Before we increase density and give up open space, we
need to understand how many of our citizens and commuter workers
are likely to relocate to whatever new affordable housing
is created in Sedona. Perhaps it would be helpful to examine
who purchased Nepenthe housing (which I think would fall close
to the category of affordable housing) when it first came
on the market. What percent of these homes were sold to then-current
Sedona residents or worker commuters and what percent were
sold to newcomers?
There is another problem. Even if current Sedona residents
or worker commuters want to move into the new affordable housing
and the developer would agree to give preference to them over
newcomers, I am not sure that the fair housing laws would
permit preferential treatment. I worry that if we give up
open space to build affordable housing that it might be filled
with new people moving here, which I do not consider as a
good reason for giving up open space.
Every decision of importance is a balance between competing
needs and desires. Affordable housing is an important issue,
but it is not the only important issue that the citizens of
Sedona are concerned about. Our city government must balance
the need for affordable housing and the negative impact it
may have on other important issues, particularly preserving
open space. Before it acts, our City government should be
clear about the following:
1. Who new affordable housing is targeted to benefit;
2. Whether there is an effective way to deliver this
benefit to the targeted group of recipients;
3. What are the compromises with competing important
issues (especially open space) that would be necessary to
achieve the goal; and
4. How do the citizens of Sedona feel about whatever
action plan is being considered by the City for adoption?
I believe it would be both fair and wise for the City
government, perhaps under the sponsorship of the Housing Advisory
Committee, to get as much citizen input as practicable on
the recommendations developed.