Out-of-state and foreign speculators are now descending on Tucson, are buying up aging houses in the west side barrio, making repairs and flipping them for much higher prices. This “gentrification” effect eliminates low-cost housing and raises rents and house prices. It also destroys the culture and heritage of a neighborhood.
To the audience of 400 that packed the El Rio Community Center on Saturday, this is a crisis. They came to hear candidates for the Ward 1 city council race, and Mayoral candidates Steve Farley, Regina Romero, and Randi Dorman.
Steve Farley pointed out that Arizona is the 4th worst state for affordable housing, saying, “this is a crisis.”
A Democratic former legislator in Arizona for 12 years, Farley said, “We have a problem with a lot of investors from out of state and out of the country, buying properties, and flipping them for a profit. Some buy and invest in an Airbnb, or in student housing or just flipping them. We’ve got to get on top of that issue. That’s a major issue here,” Farley said. We need to crack down on people who are taking advantage of our community, who are taking property out our resources of affordable housing and take their profits out of state.”
Randi Dorman, a developer who converted a derelict factory into the Ice House Lofts, said that the city must direct funding to create affordable housing, including funds from the Government Property Lease Excise Tax (GPLET), municipal tax incremental financing (TIF), or builder tax credits in designated opportunity zones.
She said as mayor she would convene all the local non-profits to help keep people in their homes. As Chairwoman of the Downtown Tucson Partnership, she led efforts to connect homeless people downtown with housing and anti-poverty programs. This led to a decrease in chronic homelessness in downtown by 95% in just a few months.
Regina Romero, who had been the city councilwoman for Ward 1 since 2007, said the city must be the focal point for existing services about community development block grants, the Pima Council on Aging, and the Southern Arizona Legal Aid service for renters facing eviction. “We haven’t put all the resources on one page,” she said. “We will have a new department director of Housing and Community Development.
El Rio Golf Course, Sanctuary City
All three candidates pledge to listen to the community about the future of the historic El Rio Golf Course which at one point was losing $1.5 million per year. A 2013 plan to sell the course to Christian Grand Canyon University was called off in the face of community opposition. Farley said flatly, “I will not sell El Rio to anyone who is an outsider.”
All three candidates opposed the idea of changing the city charter to declare that Tucson is a sanctuary city. The Tucson Families Free and Together initiative would put the force of law behind the city’s immigrant-welcoming self-designation, formalizing guidelines already in place here about circumstances under which police can ask about immigration status.
The sanctuary city designation would bring down the wrath of the Republican state legislature, which would threaten to cut off $130 million in state revenue to the city. Romero called for repealing the anti-immigrant SB1070 law, which requires police to determine an individual’s immigration status during detention or arrest.
Augmenting police and fire
“We have 30 fewer uniformed police officers than we had in 2005,” Farley said. “We should embark on aggressive annexation of unincorporated areas, so we get sales taxes from shopping centers like La Encantada. If we’re a bigger metro area, we will have a bigger economy, and have fewer have-nots in different parts of the community.”
Dorman noted that Tucson has an 18% poverty rate. “The economy is not doing nearly as well as it should be. Our priority is economic development and jobs, it goes beyond annexation. We need to revamp the Economic Development Department. We need to create ecosystems of the industry so that people can have a career and not just a job in Tucson. Need to attract the right kind of businesses.”
Romero pointed out that 60% of the city budget is funding for public safety, and that the city has invested $150 million in first responders, ambulances and new police and fire stations. She said $3.2 million was budgeted for raises for police and firefighters.