Arizona, California mayors unite to tackle affordable housing, homelessness issues

LOS ANGELES – Several mayors from across the country – including Los Angeles, Phoenix and Mesa – have joined a coalition to find solutions to the lack of affordable housing in their cities.

Fourteen mayors and CEOs have joined the Mayors & CEOs for U.S. Housing Investment coalition. Part of their goal is to form public-private partnerships to ensure the federal government continues to fund federal housing and homeless assistance.

In Arizona, more than 40,000 people are homeless, according to the 2016 Arizona Department of Economic Security report on homelessness.

From 2015 to 2017, Maricopa County saw a 59 percent increase in the number of people living unsheltered, according to the city of Phoenix. That accounts for 70 percent of the state’s homeless population, according to Phoenix Rescue Mission.

The scarcity of affordable housing, Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton said in a statement, “can put a local economy at a competitive disadvantage as many employers have reported that a lack of affordable housing makes it more difficult to recruit and retain employees.”

The average rent for an apartment in Phoenix is $935, a 5 percent increase compared with last year, according to RentCafe.

Rising housing costs and the shutdown of an overflow shelter for men have contributed to an increase in the number of people living on the streets in Maricopa County, experts told Cronkite News.

Experts estimate 8,000 to 11,000
people live in Los Angeles’ skid row downtown, according to the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce. (Photo by Micah Bledsoe/Cronkite News)

There aren’t enough beds in the remaining shelters. For example, the 470 beds at Central Arizona Shelter Services in downtown Phoenix are filled most nights of the year, Mary Glennon, a program manager at CASS, told Cronkite News earlier this year.

In California, housing prices have skyrocketed. The average rent for an apartment in LA is $2,220, according to the RentCafe website. That has led to sharp increase in homelessness.

The Rev. Andy Bales of Union Rescue Mission in LA said he’s frustrated that local authorities have done so little to deal with affordable housing and homelessness. The mission is the oldest and largest private homeless shelter in the country.

“Skid row is the worst man-made disaster in the U.S., and it’s going to take a lot of work to turn it around,” Bales said, referring to a dilapidated 54-block area of downtown Los Angeles.

Many cities across the U.S. struggle with housing and homelessness, he said, and will require “every kind of approach, including the mayors’ coalition.”

He also said there is a huge need for an investment in more affordable housing, such as micro units and tiny homes.

“We’ve got to not only get people off the streets … but we also have to create innovative affordable smaller units that people with low income can actually afford to live in,” Bales said.

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf also joined the coalition. Her city has created a temporary housing complex using Tuff Shed shelters.

“We actually got the business community to help us purchase Tuff Sheds,” she said. “Now, these are not intended to keep permanent residents. These are an improvement over tents, but we were able to get people into safety, security and services.”

The sheds fill a lot owned by the Pacific Gas and Electric Co. Those staying in the sheds can stay up to six months as they try to get back on their feet, officials said.

The coalition wants to create three public-private partnership programs and opposes federal funding cuts to housing programs such as the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Skid row, a 54-block area in downtown Los Angeles, emerged in the mid-1960s and early 1970s, according to the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce. Officials have tried to make improvements in the area for decades. (Photo by Micah Bledsoe/Cronkite News)

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