Affordable housing ranked Chandler’s top problem SanTan Sun News

Affordable housing ranked Chandler’s top problem

Affordable housing ranked Chandler’s top problem
Community
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By Kevin Reagan Staff Writer

 

Affordable housing was ranked as Chandler’s most pressing societal need in a recent assessment administered by city officials. 

As property values have risen in Chandler over the last couple of decades, more residents are falling below the poverty line and having a harder time find affordable housing. 

“If you are not in the high-earning segment of our community, things are getting much tougher for you,” said Riann Balch, the city’s community resources director.

Balch was involved in conducting a citywide assessment this year that asked residents what resources are lacking in Chandler. Hundreds of community members and stakeholders offered their input and results show housing topped the list of urgent needs. 

It’s not exactly surprising, Balch said, considering how much Chandler has changed since 2000. The city’s population has grown by 42 percent and Chandler’s median home value has increased by 100 percent. 

But wages don’t appear to be keeping pace with the growth. 

According to the 2019 assessment, a survey of about 600 Chandler residents revealed 29 percent of them earned less than $25,000 annually. 

And about 20,000 Chandler residents are living below the federal poverty line—an amount that’s grown 78 percent in the last 18 years. 

By comparison, Arizona’s rate of residents living in poverty grew by about 56 percent during that same timeframe. 

“Our demographic changes are stunning,” Balch added. 

The recent assessment is meant to inform officials on where it should allocate funding in the community by using data as a guide. 

When it comes to housing, some potential actions the assessment recommends include helping residents with utility bills, assisting with residential down-payments and supporting rent subsidies.  

The city already owns several public housing units for low-income residents and manages about 480 rental vouchers — commonly referred to as Section 8 vouchers — that are funded through the federal government. 

Leah Powell, the city’s neighborhood resources director, said her department has been trying to find more landlords willing to accept Section 8 vouchers. 

“That in itself is a challenge especially with rent increasing at the rates that they are,” Powell said. 

A number of real estate websites have singled Chandler out for how fast its rents have increased over the last year. 

Based on the current demographics, analysts estimate Chandler has a shortfall of about 9,400 housing units for residents earning less than $35,000 a year. 

Analysts assess affordability based on how much residents spend their income on housing. Any amount that exceeds 30 percent of an individual’s salary is considered burdensome. 

The rate of Chandler residents spending more than 30 percent of income on rental housing has increased by 5 percent since 2005.

The city is in the process of compiling a long-term plan that addresses affordable housing in Chandler, Powell added, and the city communicates with a group of East Valley leaders that’s addressing the homeless situation. Homelessness ranked third on the list of needs included in the city’s 2019 assessment. 

The number of unsheltered individuals counted in Chandler doubled between 2018 and 2017, though these numbers are not always considered accurate because counting homeless people can be difficult. 

Behavioral health, transportation and social isolation were other needs that ranked high in the assessment. 

The city is trying to stay vigilant in assuring senior citizens and teenagers feel connected in the community before some of them fall through the cracks.  

A recent string of teen suicides in the East Valley has brought more awareness to issues involving mental health and social isolation, Balch said. Chandler tries to stay connected with experts in the field who can assist residents experiencing a crisis. 

“We don’t necessarily provide the service,” she said, “but we want to make sure that we are linking to people who do.”

A public hearing will be held at the City Council meeting on Aug. 9 where residents can offer feedback on the 2019 needs assessment before its finalized.

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