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Tempe is moving ahead with an ambitious Affordable Housing Strategy that seeks to boost housing options for people of all income levels and bring together partners to tackle an increasingly complex issue.
The Tempe City Council, in unanimously approving the city’s Affordable Housing Strategy (AHS), is initially backing three aggressive efforts. Among those is the use of Affordable Housing Impact Statements, which will help the city better track new affordable housing units and those that may be subtracted during some redevelopment projects. Tempe is believed to be the first city in the state to ask developers to file these impact statements.
Adoption of the AHS aligns with Tempe’s long-held values as a compassionate community, said Mayor Mark Mitchell.
“In Tempe, we care about our neighbors and we want them to thrive. Having affordable places to live, to raise families and to dream about the future is a critical part of their success,” Mitchell said. “The Affordable Housing Strategy is an important guide for us as we work to expand and preserve housing that meets the full range of incomes in Tempe.”
The AHS is a powerful tool that includes 20 comprehensive approaches to preserve, create and develop more affordable housing options in Tempe.
Currently, roughly 49 percent of the city’s housing stock is considered affordable housing and about 34 percent is considered workforce housing. Nearly 17 percent is market rate housing.
Tempe has set a goal to maintain that ratio through 2040. To do that, the City Council is prioritizing three of the most aggressive strategies laid out in the AHS followed by an action plan for the remaining recommended approaches.
The three priorities include:
Implement Affordable Housing Impact Statements, which developers submit voluntarily to help the city better track affordable housing. The city began implementing the strategy earlier this year.
Expand use of incentives, such as fee waivers, reimbursements and abatements, to boost the inclusion of affordable units in market-rate projects.
Dedicate initial seed funding to the existing Affordable Housing Trust Fund, which currently does not have a locally-dedicated source of revenue. The seed funding could come from sources such as a one-time general fund allocation or donations from developers.
“There is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to affordable housing solutions,” said Human Services Director Naomi Farrell. “These initial three strategies help lay the foundation for a broad range of others in the city’s Affordable Housing Strategy.”
According to federal standards, households paying more than 30 percent of their gross income for housing costs are considered “cost-burdened.” In Tempe, nearly 37 percent of households fall into that category, with the bulk of those considered extremely low or very low income.
“Access to affordable housing provides a diverse and vibrant community, and we are continually looking for ways to increase access for individuals and families in our community,” Farrell said.
Expanding housing options
Tempe offers roughly $10 million in direct housing assistance annually through the Housing Choice Voucher Program and specialty voucher programs that serve veterans and vulnerable populations such as seniors. At any given time, that assistance helps support more than 900 households. A recent $1 million federal allocation will add 51 more vouchers to the mix.
In Tempe, voucher holders on average find housing in 45 days, much quicker than other cities where that average doubles. A Housing Navigator hired in the past year has helped house 175 individuals and families and added nearly 30 new landlords to the list of those accepting vouchers.
The city also buys property to maintain affordability through the Tempe Coalition for Affordable Housing, established by the Tempe Housing Authority. To date, 27 affordable housing units have been purchased in the city.
Tempe relies on a range of creative and collaborative ways to expand affordable housing. This includes the newly completed Tempe Parkview Townhomes, a partnership with Habitat for Humanity Central Arizona that provides homeownership to 18 families, and the Tempe Micro Estates partnership with the nonprofit Newtown to build 13 affordable micro homes.
These collaborations also include working with developers through efforts such as maximizing Opportunity Zones, which give federal tax incentives to investors creating developments within lower income Census tracts.