A Dec. 24 article in the Arizona Republic cites affordable housing as the key to revitalizing downtown Phoenix. Attract young wannabe urbanites and restaurants, shops and services will follow, the article's sources insist. Read on a little further and you find out that Phoenix hopes to follow the model set by its neighbor some 400 miles to the west—San Diego. Never once does the article mention that when it comes to affordable housing, “model” is the last word that would describe San Diego.
Of the stories CityBeat's covered this year that advocate for social and economic justice, it would be rare to find one that doesn't have housing as its main theme or lurking somewhere in the periphery. Consider:
* County schools are facing tough budget times partially because, according to school leaders, families are moving inland and taking with them the $6,100 public schools get per student.
* A year-long battle between the San Diego Rescue Mission and a citizen's group ended this month only because the city was facing a crisis of where to put the homeless when cold weather hits.
* Over the past few months, living-wage advocates have been lobbying City Council members and stirring public support so that some 2,000 working families won't have to juggle basic needs in order to pay the rent.
* A state-funded study released in March criticized San Diego for its lack of residential drug-treatment facilities.
* Too many mentally ill folks end up on the streets, in prison and sometimes in front of a police officer's gun because there's not enough supportive housing.
* And, as we saw last February when the Maryland Hotel closed to make way for a “boutique” hotel, for folks living on Social Security, small pensions and disability checks, there's fewer and fewer options in this city-and what options there are verge on morally degrading. We know for a fact that one former Maryland tenant was, at least until last month, living out of his car while holding down a full-time job as a dock worker.
Oddly enough, lack of affordable housing has become, to some extent, an old story. Perhaps that's the reason city leaders—for the most part—aren't scrambling to do anything about it. Only recently, Mayor Dick Murphy deflected criticism by pointing to other cities in the county, urging people to ask those cities what they're doing to solve the housing crisis.
Well, Dick, you have in your possession a report by the Affordable Housing Task Force, formed in response to the city's declared housing state of emergency. The report, released in June, hits the bottom line pretty hard—affordable housing (gasp!) will cost us all some money, roughly $62 million to build a necessary 2,500 units of affordable housing each year. So far, however, discussions on where this money will come from have gone nowhere.
In a recent opinion piece in the Union-Tribune, Donald Cohen, head of the socially minded Center on Policy Initiatives and member of the Affordable Housing Task Force, put it this way: “A real discussion begins with the realization that there is no free lunch, that you get what you pay for, and yes, lots of things are worth paying for.
“Many of us,” Cohen goes on, “are willing to pay our share to make this city great.”
Shortly before they went on winter break, four City Councilmembers—Toni Atkins, Donna Frye, Michael Zucchet and Charles Lewis—sent a memo to Murphy urging him to take a leadership role in drumming up support for affordable housing. Murphy responded in typical bureaucratic fashion, saying that these things take time.
Who knows-perhaps by the time something's done around here, it'll be San Diego that's looking to Phoenix for guidance.