The Phoenix-metro area is in the midst of historic population growth.
The Valley’s population has grown 2% year-over-year since 2015, compared to 0.5% population growth for the rest of the country. Demand for housing is driving up prices, houses are selling quickly above their asking price.
This has created an additional demand for apartments, and more upward pressure on apartment prices. To make matters worse, labor and materials are increasingly scarce, further driving up costs and prices.
A one bedroom apartment in Scottsdale was $1,100 in 2017; it’s over $1,700 per month now. The Valley built almost 10,000 units last quarter, and was still 5,000 under demand from would-be occupants.
Combined with years of softening demand for retail space due to online shopping, builders are constructing more apartments in Scottsdale.
The Coalition of Greater Scottsdale estimates almost 5,000 apartments have been built since 2015, and another 10,000 planned or in the permitting process for the next 5 years.
How much impact have apartments really had?
Mayor Ortega said during the Aug. 24, council meeting that Scottsdale has 139,000 dwelling units. 10,000 apartments brings it to 149,000 units, a 7% increase. Scottsdale is 184 square miles, which means 54 more units per square mile.
With two people per apartment, we will go from 1,400 to just over 1,500 people per square mile. Claims we will turn into Chicago are silly. Chicago has 12,000 people per square mile. It’s a disservice to our neighbors to inject that hyperbole into the conversation.
At 1 to 1.5% per year, Scottsdale is growing thoughtfully amidst massive population influxes to Maricopa County.
Unfortunately, our dialogue around multi-family housing is becoming jingoistic, rather than fact-based and data-centric. People retort that Scottsdale is under no obligation to build housing and change our identity. The hostility is seen in Mayor Ortega confronting an industry spokesperson — and some of his colleagues — during the Aug. 24 Council meeting.
The group opposing a project along Hayden road recently stated: “TOTAL OPPOSITION TO MORE APARTMENTS” and “You’re not looking for families, you’re not looking for people interested in investing in this area.”
An opponent of a project on Shea posted: “It’s not like people in Scottsdale are being kicked out of their houses and forced to move into apartments or be homeless. These are transplants to the state/city who decided not to do the research.”
These comments are wrong, and incredibly insensitive. The market is forcing changes on us, whether we build or not.
Some long-time residents are being priced out of their rentals. Others can’t afford to settle here; the “Scottsdale Living” Facebook page is full of people moving to Scottsdale and asking for housing advice. These are entry and mid-level employees, teachers, young people, young families, single parents and seniors.
They are a cross-section of every community. They help keep Scottsdale “green” by spending more money where they live. They tend to offset the aging population of Scottsdale and assure a strong school system. They spend money and help our economy.
Our City Council voted 7-0 to support a diversity of housing choices and affordability in the draft General Plan. Citizens listed housing availability as one of their most important concerns in the city’s community survey this past spring.
Apartments look unsightly during construction, and they stand out from single-family homes. Of course they are noticeable, of course they create new traffic patterns. Characterizing them as “monstrosities” and “soviet”, traffic as a “nightmare” completely ignores the thorough process projects undergo to gain approval.
It takes months or sometimes years, with the builders risking six and seven figures on professional services and studies, while the projects evolve and improve to earn a place in our city.
Apartments are huge economic wins for the city’s Water Department. Concentrated infrastructure is far cheaper than running sewers and pipes to 200 homes. Water Director Brian Biesemeyer gave a presentation to City Council on Aug. 24, describing the requirements and fees for multifamily projects to invest in our infrastructure when built. New multifamily units capture almost all of their water, where our Water Department recharges it and reuses it in the community.
I am thrilled to see the breadth and volume of residents talking about projects.
Every project gets better when the developers, community, and city work together. Every project gets better when the residents see a challenge, raise their voices, and promote improvements.
Citizen advocacy is one of our city’s greatest strengths. Greenbelt 88 includes nearly 20 resident-driven changes. The Miller passed the Development Review board with a 7-0 vote, including a yes from Kathy Littlefield. We can grow our city thoughtfully and healthily when we work together and share a vision for our vibrant city.
Editor’s Note: Jason Alexander is an 11-year resident, a father, a software engineer, and helped lead the Prop 420 initiative to protect the Preserve.