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A compromise plan to allow for more affordable housing in AZ has fallen apart

By Mark Brodie
Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services
Published: Tuesday, June 13, 2023 - 11:03am
Updated: Wednesday, June 14, 2023 - 7:25am

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A compromise between state lawmakers and Arizona cities and towns to allow for more housing — and more affordable housing — appears dead at the state Capitol.

Housing was seen as one of the more pressing issues for the legislature to deal with this year, and an effort earlier in the session failed with both Republicans and Democrats opposed.

But, late last week, supporters announced a deal on an amended version, only to see if fall apart days later.

Jeremy Duda of Axios Phoenix joined The Show to talk more about it.

Sen. Steve Kaiser acknowledged Tuesday that the comprehensive zoning overhaul won't happen this year. That admission came despite high hopes he expressed late last week after striking a deal with the League of Arizona Cities and Towns on a slimmed-down version of his bill.

The Phoenix Republican had also picked up support from many Democrats who see local zoning — and NIMBY-ism — as a way for communities to keep out "affordable" housing.

The deal would have set state standards for zoning, requiring cities and towns to allow backyard casitas and a mix of new smaller developments including small lot sizes, duplex and tri-plex homes and manufactured housing. Democrats negotiated to get Kaiser to include language giving incentives for builders to develop affordable apartments in major metro areas near light rail and streetcar lines.

But the deal, which would have set some baseline restrictions on those local powers, ended up going a bit too far for many Republicans.

"I do not want to turn the Legislature into the local zoning board," said Rep. Neal Carter (R-San Tan Valley).

And that, said Carter, is exactly what would happen if questions of size and density suddenly became matters that were governed by state law.

Kaiser's efforts were designed to jump-start the construction of smaller, cheaper housing in already built-up cities as a way to ease a housing crunch that has made it impossible for many people to find rental homes they can afford.

One result is rising homelessness.

Kaiser cited fatigue among lawmakers with his battle to preempt city zoning laws as the legislative session is midway through its sixth month and due to adjourn for the year.

"Ultimately, I think members just want to slow down and really work on a better product during the interim and then run something in January," Kaiser said. "I think a lot of them were a little bit uncomfortable with just how fast everything was moving and how complex the issues are."

Kaiser seemed resigned and even supportive of calling a pause to his efforts. But he was buoyed by emerging and “long overdue” efforts in cities including Phoenix to voluntarily change their zoning regulations to allow developments that are more affordable than the single family homes that have been a hallmark of development in Arizona for decades.

"If the local governments can match supply with demand, then there's no need for the state to be involved," he said.

Still, he said that even if a large number of cities voluntarily adopt new zoning rules that match what he believes is needed, they should not expect him to just drop his efforts to force zoning changes.

"I think there's still so much work to be done on zoning," Kaiser said.

"It's so complex," he said. "There's a million layers and barriers you can reduce, to speed up the process, but still respect local input. So there's still work to be done for sure. But they're moving in the right direction."

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