Rising Phoenix Housing Prices Might Be Increasing Homelessness

Published: Thursday, July 5, 2018 - 2:23pm
Updated: Thursday, July 5, 2018 - 4:05pm
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STEVE GOLDSTEIN: All you have to do is drive around Phoenix for a few minutes and you'll probably notice there's a housing boom going on. Apartment complexes seem to be going up at every corner.

LAUREN GILGER: And if you've tried to rent at any of those complexes, you've probably noticed that rental prices are going up as well.

GOLDSTEIN: In fact, as the Arizona Republic noted, metro Phoenix renters need to earn almost $20 an hour to afford a two-bedroom apartment here, and most don't.

GILGER: That is just one of the reasons that Lisa Glow, CEO of the Central Arizona Services says we are in the middle of an affordable housing crisis in the Valley, and she says it's leading to a rise in homelessness here. CASS, located in downtown Phoenix, is the largest homeless emergency shelter in the state and their numbers are on the rise. Glow recently came into our studios to talk about that phenomenon and what's behind it.

LISA GLOW: It really is a matter of not planning for a future and this is going to play out across our country. It happened in Los Angeles, where they have 57,000 homeless people, and they're now planning to build more affordable housing to deal with that crisis. In Arizona, that's where we're going. So I'll give you context. So when Gov. Janet Napolitano was governor, we had about 40 million plus in the housing trust fund, and that's a state fund that helps us build affordable housing. That trust fund now is under 4 million. So we need our governor to step up. We need legislative officials to step up. We need the business community to step up and help bring reinvestment so we have that housing again. To put it in context, there's a need for 200,000 affordable units. So for every 100 low income earners or people who are looking for affordable housing, there are 20 units available.

GILGER: Wow.

GLOW: That's the crisis. So that's one problem, and then we have the second highest eviction rate in the country. So as rents rise, even people who are working can't afford their rents. We see a lot of people at our emergency shelter or homeless shelter who've been evicted.

GILGER: OK, so there are a lot of things that go into this. How many people is this affecting? We know homelessness is on the rise. Do you have numbers?

GLOW: Well, every year, one day a year, there's something called the "point in time count," where we go out and count, volunteers count, how many people are in the community, how many are staying in shelters. We know the number is undercounted because you're not counting people couch surfing and so on. So just in Maricopa County, the number has gone up every year by 25 to 27 percent for the last three years. So in real numbers, that's around 6,200, but the number is probably more like 15,000 people who are homeless. You have to consider, also, people on the brink of homelessness, and that's where you've got to understand the changing demographics of homelessness, which I'd love to talk about a little bit as well.

GILGER: Yeah, so this isn't exactly everybody you would think of. This isn't just people who have mental illness. This is broader than that now.

GLOW: It's far broader. So people who get affected who have jobs — that's one category. The biggest concern we have right now is seniors, 55 and older, are the fastest growing segment of the homeless population across the country and we're seeing in our shelter. Most concerning are people who are 62 and older, and we had a lot of them stay in our emergency shelter last year, the oldest being an 89-year-old woman who came in with a walker. So her Social Security is not enough to cover her living expenses. Add some other complications of medical illness, fraud, which there was fraud in her case, and they end up homeless. Veterans continue to be a large majority of the homeless population. Youth who are aging out of foster care. I mean, where are they going to find an affordable place to live? They've already got a lot of challenges. The working poor that I've already talked about, the medically frail, the mentally ill —there's simply not a safety net. Too many people are one paycheck away or there's a crisis awaiting that will put them into homelessness.

GILGER: So that's a growing population. There are, though, supposed to be programs in place to help. So HUD has subsidies in place for people who do not have the money, do not make the money, to pay for even low income housing. There's affordable housing that's subsidized by the federal and the state government out there. Is that not enough? Are those programs being cut? Why isn't that working?

GLOW: Well, there's not enough. We're under-resourced and there are proposals at the federal level to make additional cuts and 89,000 Arizonans, under a proposal under the Trump administration, could result in a major rent increase for people who are on fixed incomes or have disabilities and are relying on those subsidies to help them with their rent. If this happens, we're going to have more people seeking shelter. Our shelter, we can only shelter 600 people a night. That includes our family shelter and our adult shelter, which is the largest one in Arizona. So 470 beds is not enough to meet the crisis, for the adult crisis and the family crisis, too. There are other family shelters that are burgeoning. We're all already under-resourced. So if you make any cuts, it trickles down.

GILGER: So affordable housing is one thing that needs to happen. If that doesn't happen, I mean, that's looking at the federal government's funding which is something that, you know, we might not have control over here. What is a group like yours able to do? What can the community do to try to address something like this?

GLOW: Well, the funding needs to come at the state level, too, and we all need to be concerned because it's not just impacting the individuals and the families. It's impacting the values in our neighborhoods. It's impacting the business we attract to our state. It's just not that simple. The economic development impacts need to be considered. Let me just say, we're at a real turning point. We've got to take action. So I would say our governor, our legislature, our elected officials, our business leaders, our developers have to come together around public private solutions. So we need more investments in affordable housing. We absolutely need more emergency shelter, which is what CASS does. We have 470 adult beds. Cities of smaller sizes, like Salt Lake City, they have 1,200 beds. So we are pushing to get more beds. When you get people off the streets, help them stabilize, then you've got to have a place for them to go, and for a lot of the population we serve, that place isn't there. So funding for shelter, funding for affordable housing and funding for mental health services — all of those are still lacking.

GILGER: So when you talk to somebody whose only experience with homelessness is seeing somebody every day on the side of the street with a sign saying, you know, "Anything helps." Like, for those people, who would assume, you know, that that person could get housing if they wanted to, or, you know, maybe has a drug problem or something like that. What do you say to them?

GLOW: Let me give you some stories. If it's not enough that this is a sort of a morality crisis, it's the stories of the senior citizens who come in, the 73-year-old Vietnam vet, the 89-year-old woman whose son was stealing her pension, the family, a single mom who was experiencing domestic violence. She and her five children came to our shelter. We got them housed and then her mother got ill. She had to go to Texas. She lost her job. She needed 200 dollars to pay her rent. They ended up on the street. She got evicted. So real people, who are working, senior citizens who don't have the resources, veterans — it's a matter of our humanity with our homeless neighbors. We need to understand who they are. We need to take the time to care.

GILGER: Lisa Glow, the CEO of CASS. Thank you so much for coming in.

GLOW: Thank you.

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