A recent study of housing in downtown Phoenix shows a striking dichotomy between demand for affordable residential units and the products that have been and are being developed. The study indicates that while the median price of a new attached home in Phoenix is $177,000, a similar property in downtown Phoenix would cost approximately $300,000 (Meyers Group, 2003, Executive Summary). Part of this dichotomy results from the destruction of affordable housing associated with the development of the city’s downtown infrastructure, and part of the problem is based on the City of Phoenix’s policy of providing incentives, including generous tax benefits, to developers who wish to build high-end housing.
The result is that almost all new units developed in Phoenix during the past decade are affordable only to those with minimum salaries of $65,000, whereas the medium CMA (Consolidated Metropolitan Area) income is $20,352, a reflection of the fact that 41 percent of downtown residents are employed in the service sector, earning an average of $7.00 an hour. Beyond this, 93 percent of apartments in downtown Phoenix are one-bedroom units, whereas 39.1 percent of the population consists of low-income Latino families. Affordable housing units renting from $298 to $467 a month in downtown Phoenix are always 100 percent full, as compared to market-rate housing, where vacancy rates fluctuate between 10-13 percent.
If downtown Phoenix is to provide a home to the arts community, as well as the whole spectrum of blue collar workers needed by downtown service industries (in particular the tourist/convention sectors), and white-collar workers employed by the commercial sector, there must be more affordable housing. It must fit the requirements of the artist who needs an affordable live-work space, the young couple working at a downtown bookstore, the single mother with two children who cleans guest rooms at the Hyatt, the student attending ASU, or the disabled veteran who lives downtown to be closer to the medical attention he or she needs. All of these individuals, and many more, need affordable housing. We do not need to follow the example of other Western cities where low-income residents commute to and from work, while only the wealthy live close to their jobs. Such a system results in the destruction of diversity — the diversity critical to the establishment of a vibrant downtown.