From tenant protections to criminalizing homelessness, the Arizona legislature starts thinking about housing.
The Arizona Legislature has started 2023 off with a bang, putting forward over twenty bills pledging to finally tackle one of the biggest issues in the state: housing. These bills propose a variety of solutions, such as investments in affordable housing and help for the homeless, as well as easing restrictions on cities. The legislation on the table can broadly be split into three groups: a direct attempt to increase affordable housing supply by Representative Cano (a key part of Governor Hobbs’s housing plan), tenant protections by Representative Ortiz, and then anti-homeless measures by Senator Kavanagh.
Affordable Housing Supply
Representative Cano takes a carrot and stick approach to increasing the affordable housing supply. Let’s start with the carrots. The biggest one is HB 2256, which would increase the coffers of the Housing Trust Fund by $150 million. Cano is also sponsoring HB 2270, which would add $6 million to the affordable housing tax credit. There’s more than just monetary incentives, with HB 2259 waiving parking requirements for affordable housing developments. Other bills promise to reallocate funding from small sources to affordable housing, as well as directly assisting homeless people in acquiring driver’s licenses.
The stick approach is more interesting. The proposed HB 2272 would require cities with over 75,000 people to make a housing plan designed to increase development of low and moderate income housing in line with population growth. The bill goes further, mandating that cities choose from 7 of 13 listed strategies to improve their housing supply. These strategies are concrete, such as upzoning, waiving fees, legalizing ADU’s, and eliminating parking requirements. The bill would require cities to report annually on their progress in increasing low and moderate-income housing, as well as how they are using the listed strategies.
Representative Ortiz, backed by a large portion of the Arizona House Democrats, has introduced a number of protections for tenants. The biggest one is HB 2085, which would ban on discrimination against tenants based on their source of income. This is largely aimed at protecting those who receive housing/government assistance. HB 2083 contains numerous provisions that make things a little easier for tenants, such as requiring landlords to disclose rent and fees before a lease begins, and to disclose fees on advertisements that include the rent price. Another provision would require landlords who accept partial payment of rent to withhold from taking action against their tenants, and an amendment that allows tenants to opt-out of optional services that come with fees, such as trash valet.
Representative Ortiz has also sponsored a dead-on-arrival bill that would repeal the state ban on rent control, and has co-sponsored a bill by Representative Salman that would require cities to provide water and restrooms for homeless people.
Not everything can be positive. A number of the bills introduced so far are explicitly targeting the homeless. Two are from the senate, all sponsored by Senator Kavanagh. SB 1022 would make begging on traffic medians illegal, one of the most visible aspects of homelessness. SB 1024 makes sleeping, lying, or even sitting down on streets and sidewalks illegal.
The housing affordability bills are a great start, but will they make a difference? Not much. More funding for affordable housing is always welcome, but it doesn’t target the crux of the issue: a lack of housing supply.
In fairness to Representative Cano and Governor Hobbs, HB 2272 is aimed directly at this problem, but that doesn’t mean it will be effective. The bill lists thirteen strategies to increase the housing supply, many of which are quite effective, such as upzoning, legalizing ADU’s, and eliminating parking requirements.
Still, the bill does not require cities to follow all of those strategies, it only requires cities to follow seven of them. Naturally, they will pick the easiest and least intrusive of these strategies, which will also be ones with the least impact on the housing supply. This would be an improvement if cities would earnestly follow the strategies they would adopt, yet the bill has no language that ensures this would happen.
The only action that would be expected from cities would be to prepare a report that describes how they have worked to implement the strategies they adopted in their plan. It does not require cities to work particularly hard at increasing their housing supply, nor does it actually say what will happen if cities simply refuse to implement any strategies. HB 2272 makes it clear what cities should do, it just doesn’t do much else.
The tenant protection bills too are largely good ideas. Especially if Arizona Democrats take the House next session, as whipping support among the party now makes it easier to do so again later. The question for the current session then is if they will actually pass a Republican-controlled legislature. For the rent control bill, the answer is simple: not a chance in hell. For the rest, one can only hope.
Senator Kavanagh’s anti-homeless bills, on the other hand, certainly deserve to go nowhere. These bills effectively criminalize being homeless without shelter. A cruel approach, considering not everyone has access to shelter, and many shelters (especially for women) have abysmal conditions. Senator Kavanagh must think that seeing is believing, and, ergo, if he does not see any homeless people, he does not need to believe they exist.
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