Phoenix housing

Village planning committees throughout Phoenix will soon be asked to weigh in on zoning code changes aimed at increasing affordable housing options amid rising home prices and rent.

Seven so-called text amendments that will start rolling out June 1 reduce parking space requirements for multifamily projects, lower minimum acreage for mobile home parks and address “accessory living units,” potentially rentable units on  single-family homes’ lots.

While they are still finalizing as the final wording of the seven proposed so-called text amendments, city Planning Director Josh Bednarik told a council subcommittee last week that his department aims to get three amendments related to mobile home parks before City Council by early July while others might not be ready for final approval until September.

Another amendment addresses short-term rental regulations, though details were not disclosed either last week or at a March 22 hearing on those zoning code changes.

However, it apparently will create a permitting system and regulations for short-term rentals similar to those adopted by other cities that are trying to curb nuisance complaints.

“As we are finalizing the language,” Bednarik said, “part of what we’re looking at as we allow for an (accessory dwelling unit) is what…to allow for a duplex or even a triplex. So, there’s some minor modifications that we’re having to make across the board.”

Speaking at a Feb. 22 meeting of the same Economic Development and Equity Subcommittee, Bednarik defined an accessory dwelling unit as “a structure that’s positioned on a lot that is smaller than the primary structure.”

He said the city currently allows such structures, but that “the main provision that isn’t currently permitted in the code is the provision of cooking facilities, and that’s what we will be looking to update as part of this text amendment.”

In 2019, council allowed cooking within accessory dwelling units that are inside the main home, but the proposed changes will address structures outside a houseincluding a garage.

Several council members noted that Tucson already provides for accessory dwelling units, but they also raised concerns such units could be then marketed as short-term rentals and do nothing to ease the dearth of affordable housing units in Phoenix.

Asked if the text amendment could require that accessory dwelling units be offered only for long-term rents, Bednarik replied:

“Having some type of affordability condition associated with ADUs is not something we’ve currently contemplatednor is it something that the City of Tucson has. But that’s not to say that’s not something we could certainly consider.”

Bednarik also noted that 10 of Phoenix’s 15 villagesmostly in the western and northern portions of the cityallow a multigenerational unit within a home so that an elderly parent of special-needs adult child could live independently, but yet be near family when needed.

When Bednarik noted that one of the issues facing the city is whether it made sense for a “one size fits all” approach to accessory dwelling units, Councilwoman Ann O’Brien stressed input from all the VPCs and other parties is critical.

“Not every neighborhood is exactly the same,” O’Brien said. “This particular legislation would be blanket legislation and neighbors and communities would no longer have any kind of input on what might come to be their neighbors.”

Vice Mayor Yassamin Ansari noted that the state Legislature has been working on a measure to generate more affordable housing by removing some municipal controls over new developments.

She said the she liked those provisions of the measure that are using accessory dwelling units to create “new zoning districts for duplexes and triplexes, increasing density and height allowances within two miles of a light rail line, also removing parking minimums.”

The amendments to Phoenix’s zoning code are part of a broad city strategy to increase housing availability for low-income individuals and families and provide more “workforce housing” in the city.

That strategy includes millions of mostly federal dollars focused on various housing programs for people earning no more than 80% of the regional median income

Administration officials told the subcommittee on April 26 that while the federal funds must be directed to lower-income housing, they believe the public investment in turn drives more private development of housing for teachers, public safety employees and other working people who are finding themselves squeezed by rising home prices and higher rent.

“HUD does not fund workforce housing,” said Assistant Housing Director Aubrey Gonzalez. “So what we see in the market tends to be naturally occurring. So as other new construction is developed, other properties will become more affordable to that tier level of workforce housing.”

Asked by Councilwoman Laura Pastor if the administration is “saying workforce housing is driven by the market,” Deputy City Housing Director Samantha Keating replied that she was “absolutely correct.”

Last week’s hearing was a follow-up to a council Economic Development and Equity Subcommittee hearing in March in which representatives of the city Housing and Planning and Development departments discussed a “housing gap analysis” they performed in connection with the Housing Phoenix Plan launched in 2020.

Based on 2020 data, an April 21 council report said, city officials determined that Phoenix needed an additional 163,067 housing units. 

The possible reduction required parking spaces for future apartment complexes concerned some council members, including Ansari.

“One of my biggest concerns is that...a drawn-out public process may result in piecemeal policies where affluent areas who may have a bit of louder voices will get to opt out of zoning updates while solving the weight of the housing crisis could end up the south and west sides of our city.