Legislation would require housing assistance programs to prioritize Arizonans

Alvira Arvizo hugs her younger brother, Adriel Arvizo, at their temporary Avondale home on Nov. 18, 2022.

State legislators this week moved a bill forward that would require government agencies that administer housing assistance programs to give preference to Arizona residents.

The Arizona Republic raised the issue in a March story about how people from across the U.S. were competing for spots on Glendale’s housing choice voucher waitlist.

When Glendale opened its voucher waitlist in 2021, more than 11,000 households from 48 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico applied. Because the waitlist was populated by a random lottery, many out-of-state applicants were picked for the waitlist, while some Glendale residents were not.

Housing assistance "waitlist shopping" is a nationwide phenomenon. The increasing scarcity of affordable housing in the U.S. has meant more poor families are willing to move far from home for subsidized housing.

“We want to give preferences to housing voucher programs for Arizona residents. They should not be competing with someone in Illinois to be on the waitlist. We need to take care of Arizonans first,” Sen. Steve Kaiser, R-Phoenix, said at Tuesday’s House Commerce Committee meeting.

The bill, drafted by Rep. Analise Ortiz, D-Phoenix, also includes two other provisions. The first provision would require municipalities with a population of more than 525,000 to allow by-right development of low-income apartment complexes on land near public transit and already zoned for commercial, mixed-use or multifamily residential development. The second provision would require municipalities to publish reports assessing their housing needs every five years.

The proposed legislation moved out of the House Commerce Committee with a bipartisan 7-3 vote.

High demand: Affordable housing crisis has 'waitlist shoppers' across US vying for few Arizona vouchers

The Arizona Housing Coalition supports the bill because it is a targeted solution to the affordable housing crisis, lobbyist Lourdes Peña said at the hearing.

But Phoenix, Tucson and the League of Arizona Cities and Towns oppose the bill because it would permanently expand “property rights for developers over residents, for a temporary issue ... of housing affordability,” said lobbyist Nick Ponder.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which funds the housing choice voucher program and other affordable housing programs, does not allow municipalities to limit their applicant pools to locals. Allowing people to apply to waitlists wherever they want gives them freedom and a shot at upward mobility and can decrease racial discrimination, according to HUD.

Juliette Rihl covers housing insecurity and homelessness for The Arizona Republic. She can be reached at jrihl@arizonarepublic.com or on Twitter @julietterihl.

Coverage of housing insecurity on azcentral.com and in The Arizona Republic is supported by a grant from the Arizona Community Foundation.

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Legislation proposes housing aid programs must prioritize Arizonans