Jerod MacDonald-Evoy

(Arizona Mirror) Republicans and Democratic lawmakers have laid out their priorities to address the state’s affordable housing woes with wildly different plans.

Republican lawmakers Monday announced their intention to bring legislation aimed at “cutting red tape” around the building of housing in the state, while Democrats are voicing support for creating capping rents. Both measures were introduced last year but failed.

“Government has been the problem, particularly local government,” Arizona Senate President Warren Petersen said.

Petersen, along with Republican members of the state House of Representatives and Senate, voiced support for what they are calling the “Arizona Starter Homes Act.”

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Leo Biasiucci, R-Lake Havasu City, says that a municipality cannot force a homeowner into an HOA, may not interfere with the “right to choose the features, amenities, structure, floor plan and interior and exterior design of a home” and prohibits any city larger than 50,000 people from creating any regulation around the size of lots for single-family homes.

“Let’s make these homes more affordable,” Biasiucci said, remarking on the fact that many homes in the state have seen skyrocketing prices. “Let’s cut some red tape.”

Former Republican lawmaker Steve Kaiser, who resigned his seal last summer, introduced a similar measure last legislative session, but the bill failed to gain support and ultimately failed.

Petersen said this year’s effort is different because more lawmakers understand the issue and some Republicans may have been opposed to provisions that are no longer a part of the bill.

Members of the real estate industry gathered with Republican lawmakers to tout the bill as a way to help shore up more affordable housing in the state.

Carolina Gomez, a real estate agent who said she works with the Hispanic community, said that for many of her clients, the option of buying a home is out of reach. The average home value in Phoenix is approximately $414,000.

“They work hard and they work in jobs nobody wants,” Gomez said of her clients who are having trouble finding places to live due to rising rents and the lack of affordability for purchasing a home.

While Republicans are asking to deregulate, arguing that it will increase demand and drive down costs, Democratic lawmakers are continuing to push for the repeal of the state’s law barring rental caps.

Housing advocates have argued that rent control is key to grappling with the state’s growing rental prices, a key factor in the surge in homelessness in Arizona, which increased by 21% from 2020 to 2022. That spike led the federal government to give additional aid to Phoenix.

Last year’s attempt at rent control failed to gain any traction, but Democratic lawmakers and housing advocates are hoping that might change this year and some are voicing their frustration with the proposals from their colleagues.

“The developers have been writing legislation and manipulating (the law) forever,” Sen. Juan Mendez, D-Tempe, told the Arizona Mirror. “I don’t know if they have the answers we need.”

Mendez said that he could see parts of the argument that developers might be held back from creating additional housing units, but worries about “writing a blank check” to developers who may instead build luxury or other unaffordable housing under the Republican proposal, adding that it could become a “free for all.”

Camille Laing, a volunteer with the progressive Latino advocacy group LUCHA, told the Mirror that rent stabilization should be the focus of the legislature, but said that a “holistic approach” is also needed to combat rising evictions and homelessness in the state.

Laing herself narrowly avoided eviction after losing her job but was able to apply for emergency assistance to help pay her bills.

“If I had lost my home, I would’ve lost my daughter,” Laing said, adding that lawmakers should see this as a “humanitarian crisis.”

The Arizona Multihousing Association, which represents the interests of landlords, has put its support behind Republican efforts to deregulate zoning in order to bring about more affordable housing. And the landlords are backing another Biasiucci bill that would allow developers to utilize vacant commercial property and turn it into housing units without going through a rezoning process.

The group also supports a Democrat effort to expand the low-income housing tax credit system that is set to expire in 2025, and to extend it for another three years. The tax credits are designed to incentivize developers to build low-income housing.

While lawmakers may not agree on each other’s approaches, they do seem to agree that affordability is an issue impacting Arizonans who make minimum wage and the state in general.

“You know what my kids can afford?” Petersen asked reporters. “Absolutely nothing.”