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How Maricopa County focuses on each city's affordable housing need

By Mark Brodie
Published: Tuesday, January 30, 2024 - 10:58am
Updated: Friday, February 2, 2024 - 8:22am

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Affordable housing, or the lack of it, continues to be a major concern across the Valley. Last month on The Show, we talked about why it can be so difficult to build new affordable units in Arizona. But today, we heard from someone working to get more attainable homes built.

Jacqueline Edwards is the director of Maricopa County’s Human Services Department. She says increasing the number of affordable homes has been a priority for the Board of Supervisors, especially since the beginning of the pandemic. She says the board has allocated around $130 million from the American Rescue Plan Act to build more affordable housing, partnering with cities, towns, nonprofits and developers across the county to do it.

Edwards joined The Show to talk more about this.

jacqueline edwards
Katherine Davis-Young/KJZZ
Jacqueline Edwards is director of Maricopa County's Human Services Department.

MARK BRODIE: And Jacqueline is it fair to say there are challenges and opportunities in a position like yours where you're working with a variety of cities with a variety of needs and wants as opposed to maybe doing the work yourself like a city might do.

JACQUELINE EDWARDS: I think what makes us successful in this realm is because of our partnerships with local jurisdictions, with nonprofits, with developers because we've partnered with local municipalities to support the housing needs of their community. And what's right for one community may not be the best solution for another.

BRODIE: Does it make it a little more difficult though? I wonder like if you were just working for a city name, any city across the Valley, like you sort of have your plans for what land you have available, what the market's like, what the needs are, but in your role you're sort of dealing with a lot of it seems just like a lot of moving parts all at once. And you know, as you say, what works great in Phoenix might not work so well in Peoria. So it just seems like there's a sort of a lot of maybe different things you have to come up with all at once.

EDWARDS: So I think that's where we are able to be very intentional and tailor our solutions to meet the needs of those communities. And it's actually very exciting to work for the county and to be in this role because we are able to have so many different solutions on the table and be able to adjust accordingly based on the needs of those communities and what those local jurisdictions may want to pursue.

BRODIE: What are some of the, the solutions, what are some of the options that seem to have more broad support across the Valley? You know, maybe regardless of what city they're in things that you've been able to try to work on in, in multiple cities.

EDWARDS: Well, rehab of current properties is a big part of our portfolio of for sustaining affordable housing in the community. And that really makes a difference no matter where you live in Maricopa County because the housing stock we have is aging.

BRODIE: When you talk about things that maybe work in some places that don't work in others, are you mostly talking about things like density and high rises and like apartment complexes versus buildings or duplexes or quad pluses, things like that.

housing construction
Katherine Davis-Young/KJZZ
New houses under construction in south Phoenix.

EDWARDS: So when I take a look at what's going to be great for one community and may not be the best solution for others. Really how we approach it is, you know, an example would be in Gila Bend, we have put money into that community for homes to be built. So community land trust is a really great solution there because it makes it affordable for people to be able to purchase the home. And at the same time, in a community land trust model, the home will stay affordable in perpetuity. In other communities, you know, we've partnered with the city of Phoenix on a permanent support of housing complex. That's what's needed in that community because of the population that they're trying to focus on housing. So each community needs a little bit different and it's not so much that something wouldn't work somewhere else. It's really about the intentionality and focusing the solutions on that city or town's needs.

BRODIE: Sure. So there's obviously been so much discussion and attention on the need for more affordable housing, workforce housing, attainable housing. And, you know, over the last several months, there's been a lot of discussion about the role of cities in that in terms of zoning regulations or, you know, allowing casitas, things like that. I'm curious from your perspective, like, do you run into issues where, you know, something might work for a city and maybe even the city thinks it's a good idea, but the rules and regulations in that particular community just don't allow for it.

EDWARDS: So the projects that we've invested in, typically, we are coming in when the zoning is already in place, when the plans are already moving forward and often are the entity that really provides the gap funding or that last dollar to make the project come to fruition.

BRODIE: What do you think it's gonna take for this region to really have the amount of housing and the amount of affordable housing that it needs? And we keep seeing the number of units short we are, and the number of affordable units short, we are like, what's it gonna take to get us where we need to be?

EDWARDS: It will take partnerships, partnerships across all levels of government. So from the federal government to the state, to county, to local partnerships with nonprofits and partnership with developers. And we can't forget in all of these partnerships, partnership with our community members so that they understand what units are needed in our community and who that really applies to. 

BRODIE: Well, and it seems to me, you have kind of a unique perspective working for the county that as we've discussed, you work with a lot of different cities across the region as opposed to just sort of working in one of them. I wonder, you know, as you are able to maybe take a slightly broader view of this county of this region, are there particular areas that maybe seem primed to be doing better than others, or where it's more likely that they will have the amount of affordable attainable workforce housing that they need perhaps relative to other parts of the Valley.

EDWARDS: Actually, what we've seen with our investments of the American Rescue Plan Act funds is this expansion of affordable and workforce housing across Maricopa County. So each area, whether we're talking about urban suburban or rural has made significant strides in expanding those opportunities for community members. Again, it it's partnerships at every level that has really made Maricopa County a prime area for this expansion of housing that's really needed at all income levels in our community.

BRODIE: Is that trajectory, do you think sustainable, especially given that, you know, the federal money is a one time thing. It's, it's not once it's gone, it's not coming back.

EDWARDS: So the, the escalation of investments in this brief last few years really is a once in lifetime opportunity. And the Board of Supervisors in Maricopa County decided to invest that to expand affordable housing. And like I said, it's a once in a lifetime investment. But what we are doing here in Maricopa County is to ensure that although smaller in nature that the funding that we do receive, especially the federal government for affordable housing will be able to be invested very intentionally as we move forward.

BRODIE: Sure, all right. That is Jacqueline Edwards, director of Maricopa County's Human Services Department. Jacqueline, thanks for your time. I appreciate it.

EDWARDS: Thanks so much, Mark.

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