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Study: Flagstaff facing 'acute' affordable housing shortfall

When Denise Wynne moved from Sedona to Flagstaff, she planned to buy a home in the city that had charmed her with friendly people and a robust cultural scene. However, more than two years later, she is no closer to home ownership.

“I sold my little house in Sedona, so I had some money,” Wynne said. “I got a job at the library, and I knew I wanted to stay here. I started to look for condos in summer of 2015.”

Wynne almost bought a studio condo for about $90,000 when she first arrived, which she said “would have taken every penny” she had.

Instead, she decided to rent an apartment at Canyon Springs Apartments on Switzer Canyon Drive for a while during her search for a home she could purchase.

She tried looking in Winslow and Williams for an affordable home, a strategy used by an increasing number of people who work Flagstaff, but did not find anything that she liked or suited her needs.

Now, Wynne is moving, but not into a home she owns. Instead, she is renting a unit in a triplex in La Plaza Vieja for $1,200 a month.

“I said as long as I was paying an arm and a leg, I have to love it,” Wynne said of her new apartment.

Housing experts generally define a home as “affordable” if a person does not spend more than 30 percent of his or her monthly income on housing. A person is cost-burdened when more is spent on housing.

Wynne’s situation is hardly unique. According to a study commissioned by the Economic Collaborative of Northern Arizona (ECoNA), 60 percent of renter households in Flagstaff are cost-burdened, while 23 percent of homeowners are overextended on housing costs.

After taking off time to care for her mother and aunt, Wynne did not have a strong enough work history to borrow very much money for a mortgage, and was qualified to buy something between $140,000 and $150,000. She qualified for homebuyer assistance from Housing Solutions of Northern Arizona, but soon learned the challenge would be finding anything available that she could afford.

After more than two years of looking, Wynne decided to take a break from the search. She moved into a new apartment that she loves, even though it is “not sustainable” for her to live there for the long term.


It was situations like Wynne’s that prompted the Workforce Housing Attainability Study, commissioned by ECoNA and created by Werwath and Associates. Several public and private employers approached ECoNA, all concerned about the difficulty they were having attracting and retaining workers in Flagstaff, specifically due to a lack of affordable housing.

The group contracted with the W.A. Franke College of Business at Northern Arizona University to administer a survey to employees of the largest entities in the city. The survey results, combined with data from the U.S. Census, the Bureau of Labor Statistics and other studies, were used to create the group’s report, which was released in December.

The study found that the population of Flagstaff increased by 7 percent between 2010 and 2015, while the number of households grew by 5.1 percent.

“This growth equates to approximately one new housing unit for every four new residents over this time period,” according to the report.

“If there is one succinct way to summarize our findings, it is that Flagstaff is facing an unprecedented and acute housing affordability crisis and is several years behind in finding tangible solutions to address housing affordability issues,” Peter Werwath wrote in the final report.

Other key findings in the study include:

• A 2010 study identified 4,808 unique second homeowners, nearly 25 percent of the housing market. Demographic analysis of these second homeowners showed that they had an average household income nearly $56,000 more per year than the general Flagstaff population and a large percentage were married and over the age of 55.

• Flagstaff’s cost of living is 14.1 percent above the national average, driven by housing costs 36 percent above the national average.

• 2016 median sales price for a single-family home was $350,000, requiring an income over $90,000 a year to purchase.

• The mortgage capacity of a household earning the area median income is approximately $257,000.

• Sales of single-family homes below $250,000 shrank by more than 50 percent between 2014 and 2016.

• Nearly 55 percent of housing units in Flagstaff are renter-occupied.

John Stigmon, the CEO of ECoNA, said nearly a third of the workforce in Flagstaff travels more than 50 miles to go to work.

The study also challenged some notions about the lack of affordability.

“Seasonal housing does not appear to be a major contributing factor, as the number of seasonal housing units (defined as homes used for recreational or occasional use for only one part of the year) has actually decreased by 13 percent while seasonal housing units have increased by nearly 14 percent nationwide,” the report states.

However, Stigmon said, people who buy second homes do not necessarily look to buy the most expensive places available.

“People aren’t necessarily buying second homes for $1 million,” he said. “They could buy an affordable home.”

But having an affordable and desirable housing market for people who work in Flagstaff or relocate to Flagstaff for work is crucial for employers.

If a person has not found a comfortable living situation within two years of moving to a city, there is an 80 percent chance the person will leave, Stigmon said.


Dawn Tucker, the Executive Director for Friends of Flagstaff’s Future, said the group is focused on looking for solutions in the short and long terms.

“We advocated for some affordable units to be built in to the Mogollon (Public Works Yard) project,” Tucker said. “People look and say four or five units doesn’t mean much, but it means a lot to those four or five families.”

Tucker said the group is also looking at the city’s affordable housing incentives, and suggesting ways to make build affordable units more attractive.

“If we started to see more developers using affordable housing incentives, we could see more sustained change over time,” she said.

People in Flagstaff have good reason to be skeptical of developers and reluctant to see change, but there is not an option for no growth in the city, Tucker said.

Friends of Flagstaff’s Future advocated for a three-acre parcel on Schultz Pass and Fort Valley Roads to be used for affordable housing, despite public outcry that the parcel should be kept as open space.

“Friends of Flagstaff’s Future is a long supporter of open space,” Tucker said. “But when considering this as a social justice issue, we have to ask, at what cost?”

Housing Solutions of Northern Arizona offers three types of homebuyer assistance to help qualified buyers with down payments or closing costs, but one of the programs is only available to city of Flagstaff employees, Executive Director Devonna McLaughlin said.

The other two, which serve households at or below 80 percent of the area median income, offer up to $15,000 in assistance.

One program, called the Workforce Initiative Subsidy for Homeownership (WISH), offers 3-to-1 matching funds as a loan, which is forgiven with five years of owner-occupancy. The program is available to people both inside Flagstaff and throughout northern Arizona.

The other program uses funds from the city’s community development block grant, can only be used in the city and is given on an as-needed basis as a loan. The loan must be paid back when the person who qualified moves out of the home or refinances the home.

Those programs can be layered if the person is buying in the city limits, McLaughlin said, meaning a person could benefit from both at the same time.

However, even with assistance, people like Wynne can still run into roadblocks.

“A challenge we’ve found is home prices are so high, that even with assistance people can’t get to a mortgage they can afford,” McLaughlin said.

Housing Solutions limits how much of a person’s gross monthly income can be spent on housing when receiving assistance to 35 percent, McLaughlin said, and requires clients to have a debt-to-income ratio of 45 percent or less.

“We want to make sure the homebuyer can get into the house, but also that they can stay in the house,” she said. “We don’t want to put them into a situation that’s not sustainable because they can’t afford it and they never could.”

Employer-assisted programs, like the city of Flagstaff’s program through Housing Solutions, could be a model for other employers, Stigmon said.

He also held Timber Sky, a development scheduled to be built on Woody Mountain Road and Route 66, as a good example of integrating affordability into a community. The project, which can have up to 1,300 housing units, has promised 100 of the units will be affordable.

The study also lists several recommendations, which include improving access to developable land, creating a down payment assistance program that serves a wider range of incomes and updating the city’s land use code.

Stigmon and other stakeholders have formed a working group to continue to discuss the next steps to implement strategies.

However, it may not come without growing pains.

Embracing student housing in appropriate areas will be a must, he said.

"It was suggested we go into very neighborhood to discern where we wanted to put student housing,” he said.

Other values, like open space, might also take a back seat.

“We are fortunate to be surrounded by beautiful forests and open space outside of the city,” Stigmon said. “We need to ask, can they be comfortable with the open space in the open space area and not as much in the city?”

For Stigmon, the question is simple.

“The community has a choice to make,” he said. “You can help the poor or you can look at the mountain.”


Wynne has decided to rent for the year to take a rest before trying to buy again.

“It’s just surprising,” she said. “I didn’t realize this was such a high-price town, I didn’t think there are a lot of high-paying jobs.”

She still loves working at the library, which she said is like having a “mega-family” in town, and said she still hopes to find a home to buy here.

“Flagstaff is so worth it,” she said. “I really appreciate all the help possible here.”

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Flagstaff nonprofit uses alternative model to boost affordable housing

In the quest to create more affordable housing in Flagstaff, one nonprofit is employing a model that takes land out of the ownership equation.

The Townsite Community Land Trust, or TCLT, buys, restores and then sells historic Flagstaff homes at an affordable price to low-to-moderate income buyers. To meet all of those goals, the land trust sells only the house, then leases the land underneath to the homeowner for a 99-year renewable term.

“It’s the most effective model for attaining affordable units for workforce housing," said Justyna Costa, housing manager for the city of Flagstaff, which has its own land trust program with 25 units.

After more than four years of work, TCLT is in the final stages of finding owners for its first housing project: four century-old cottages at the corner of Aspen and Bonito in downtown Flagstaff. Two homes already have owners and two are soon to be filled.

Two one-bedroom homes are being sold for $224,500 and two smaller studios go for $205,600.

Jake Bacon, Arizona Daily Sun 

Christine Graham sits on the porch of her Townsite Community Land Trust home, which she purchased last year. The century-old home is part of a land trust model, which means Graham owns the home but leases the land underneath it from the nonprofit Townsite Community Land Trust. 

While those prices may still be out of reach for many people, the nonprofit’s co-founder Duffie Westheimer said they are more than 25 percent below the homes’ appraised market value. She emphasized that the homes have undergone massive improvements, including new foundations for two, and are also in one of Flagstaff’s priciest neighborhoods.

“TCLT is making homes in the highly desirable historic neighborhoods available to households who otherwise would not be able to afford to own a home there at all, not to mention a safe, modernized and energy efficient home that retains its historic character,” Westheimer wrote in an email.

To make such a model work financially, there are several other ways the TCLT homes differ from those bought and sold on the open market.

  • The homes are only available to households making up to 125 percent of the area median income. That’s $55,000 per year for a single resident in Flagstaff and $62,900 for a couple.
  • A buyer’s projected monthly mortgage, interest, taxes and insurance payments can’t exceed 28 percent of their gross income. Their other debt, like credit card debt, student loans and car loans, can’t be more than 35 percent of their gross income.
  • Buyers must have savings of between 8 percent and 250 percent of their income and be able to pay a minimum down payment of 3 percent.
  • In order to keep the homes permanently affordable, TCLT caps the growth in resale price at 1.5 percent of the initial sale price, compounded annually. Sellers get that fixed appreciation, as well as their down payment and the equity they have built through monthly mortgage payments.
Jake Bacon, Arizona Daily Sun 

Emily Melhorn and her husband Joel Kane are new owners of a 650-square-foot home that was originally bought and restored by the nonprofit Townsite Community Land Trust.

The homes do also come with financial advantages.

  • Utility bills are low because the homes were built to be very energy efficient.
  • Because TCLT already owns and has paid for the land, homeowners aren’t required to purchase private mortgage insurance.
  • Because they are owner-occupied historic properties, the homes are eligible for a property tax break.
  • A shared garden area and storage building with space for each homeowner are other added bonuses that aren’t part of the sale price, Westheimer said.


The first round of TCLT homeowners, who moved in around early December, represent different backgrounds and different ways of making the land trust model work financially. Christine Graham, a professor of voice at Northern Arizona University, owns one of the one-bedroom, 701-square-foot clapboard homes that face Aspen Avenue. Graham graduated from NAU, then lived abroad in Germany for many years before being asked to come back to teach at the university in 2016.

She initially moved into an apartment owned by a colleague, but kept her eye on the downtown townsite neighborhood and eventually found out about the TCLT cottages. She hadn’t planned on buying a house right now, but loved the place and the neighborhood so much that she decided to try to make it work, Graham said.

She had saved money by living frugally in Germany and got help from her mother and brother to make a $10,000 down payment. The $1,400 per month she pays in mortgage costs was a shock initially, but isn’t far off from what others pay to rent similar spaces, Graham said.

“It was like a very complicated strategy game,” Graham said of the homebuying process.

Jake Bacon, Arizona Daily Sun 

Emily Melhorn stands with her husband Joel Kane in the living room of their new Townsite Community Land Trust home Monday afternoon. The two said the 650-square-foot historic home in downtown Flagstaff was exactly what they wanted while also being within their financial means as NAU graduate students. 

Homeownership was also new to Emily Melhorn and Joel Kane, the new owners of the 650-square-foot stone cottage next to Graham’s. The two NAU graduate students hadn’t been looking to buy, either, knowing the difficulty of the housing market in town.

“We knew the kind of house that we wanted to have and we weren’t really sure we would be able to have it in Flagstaff,” Melhorn said.

After finding out about the TCLT program, though, they jumped at the chance to own a small, historic home that is also energy efficient and located in a walkable neighborhood, the couple said.

Thanks to careers they had before going to graduate school, Melhorn and Kane had saved enough money to put up a down payment of more than 20 percent. That’s allowed them to have a smaller mortgage payment and they both said the $878 they pay each month is “definitely doable.”

They also like being part of a model they both see as a way to rein in housing costs and keep historic homes attainable.

The extent to which TCLT can help provide more affordable housing in Flagstaff depends on the nonprofit’s ability to get more historic homes, Westheimer said. The organization is looking all over Flagstaff for the next potential project.

TCLT not only subsidizes the home’s price but also commits to continually supporting homeowners, both of which Westheimer said support the mission of preserving historic structures and stabilizing neighborhoods with owner-occupied homes. It’s not about short-term payback, she said.

“We have to take the long view on this,” she said.

Ben Shanahan, Arizona Daily Sun 

Players from both Flagstaff And Thunderbird jump in an effort to connect on an incoming corner kick Saturday afternoon during a state tournament game at Flagstaff High School.

NAU faculty fault president for unilateral hiring, other decisions

Northern Arizona University officials and NAU’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors are declining to comment after the AAUP filed a grievance letter that states that faculty were not included in several changes and decisions made by President Rita Cheng over the past several years.

Those changes include allowing students to enroll for multiple semesters of classes at one time, the new centralized classroom schedule system, the cancellation of some classes, cuts to the E-Learning budget and the in-house hiring of a new provost and the search for a new person to fill the Frances B. McAllister chair.

The complaints represent one of the first formal faculty challenges to Cheng's leadership since her arrival on the Mountain Campus in the summer of 2014.  Students last year staged a sit-in at the administration building and presented Cheng with list of grievances dealing with diversity, portfolio divestment and safe campus spaces.  

The Arizona Daily Sun received a copy of the faculty letter via email. The letter is dated Jan. 16 and addressed to the NAU Faculty Grievance Committee. It is signed by the co-chairs of AAUP-NAU, Robert Schehr, a professor in the department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, and Heather Martel, an associate professor of History.

“NAU does not comment on a pending grievance,” NAU spokesperson Kim Ott stated in an email.

“It is the position of the AAUP-NAU that since the Faculty Grievance Committee’s deliberations are ongoing and confidential, we have no comment at this time,” Schehr stated in an email.

The letter contends that according to the university’s Conditions of Faculty Service and its constitution, the administration is supposed to bring any policy changes, such as the multi-semester and classroom scheduling programs and the cancellation of classes that might affect the curriculum to the Faculty Senate for deliberation. The administration is also supposed to include the Faculty Senate in the decision process of hiring a new provost or department chair.

The letter lists the courses that were canceled without faculty input as Animal Rights, Holistic Justice, Queer Justice and Resiliency and the First Year Seminar Action Learning Team Program. According to the letter, the Action Learning Team Program was allegedly cut “after being criticized for being ‘too political.’”

The letter claims that there was “little substantive faculty involvement in” the details of rolling out the multi-term enrollment program for students and the centralized classroom scheduling program.

According to NAU’s website, multi-year enrollment will allow students in the spring of 2018 to register for classes in the summer 2018, fall 2018, winter 2018 and spring 2019 semesters. This allows students to enroll for all of their classes for the entire academic year at one time.

According to NAU’s website, the centralized classroom scheduling program is supposed to assign rooms to classes more efficiently. For example, smaller sized classes in smaller rooms instead of a large lecture hall or classes that need special equipment to labs or rooms that have that option.

“While consultations with representative bodies of faculty and chairs did occur, under very limited time constraints, and individual or small numbers of faculty participated in various working groups, this hardly qualifies as including the faculty deeply ‘in all major decisions affecting the welfare of the university, individual colleges, schools and other academic units,’” the letter states, quoting the NAU constitution.

The letter states the benefits and drawbacks of the new scheduling systems were not discussed “substantively” with faculty and the new systems were rushed into place over the summer of 2017, when most faculty were not on campus.

The letter also raises concerns about how Provost Daniel Kain was hired. Kain assumed the role of interim provost after James Coleman stepped down after a little more than a year since his hiring. About a month later, Kain was appointed provost of NAU by the Arizona Board of Regents at the request of Cheng, according to the AAUP-NAU letter.

The AAUP-NAU claims that a national search should have been completed to find a replacement before appointing Kain. It also states that Cheng did not consult the entire Senate Faculty about the decision but only the Faculty Senate president and the president of the Academics Chairs Council.

AAUP-NAU also raised concerns about faculty not being included in the second search to fill the Frances B. McAllister Endowed Chair in Community, Culture and Environment. According to the job description posted on NAU’s website, the McAllister chair is supposed to “engage the university and community in dialogue about the past, present and future of the (Colorado) Plateau.” The chair has been empty for at least two years, since the last chair, Rom Coles, vacated the position in 2015.

 Cheng sent out a campus email in late December announcing that the position had been filled by Bruce Hungate, a professor in NAU’s College of Engineering, Forestry and Natural Sciences. His biography on the college's website includes the new title.

According to AAUP-NAU’s letter, Cheng allegedly “usurped” the hiring process for the chair by not including faculty in the recruitment, screening, interviewing and selection process. The original search to fill the position was abruptly closed just as candidates were supposed to be interviewed and a new advertisement for the position was advertised before a new search committee could be created. According to the AAUP-NAU letter, “no invitation for faculty feedback or campus (forums) were forthcoming, despite many assurances to the contrary.”

In their letter, the AAUP-NAU requests the NAU administration to immediately halt the use of the multi-semester enrollment and classroom scheduling programs and revert to the old systems. It also asks the administration to address the problems behind the appointment of Kain and Hungate and the violation of the Conditions of Faculty Service that were made when each were appointed.

“Unilateral decision-making by the NAU administration undermines the foundational principals of higher education, suppresses democratic processes essential to peaceful campus communities and generates inefficiencies that threaten NAU’s mission,” the letter states.

Calls for change grow amid misconduct claims in capitols

An Arizona lawmaker who repeatedly harassed women has become the first since the swell of the #MeToo movement to get kicked out of office by colleagues but likely will not be the last to face repercussions amid intensifying scrutiny of sexual misconduct in state legislatures.

The heightened focus on harassment and misconduct has led to growing calls for change in a year that already has seen an unusually large number of women expressing interest in running for office.

"This conduct perpetuates the good-old-boys culture all too familiar to women in workplaces across the nation," said Ohio state Rep. Teresa Fedor, one of several female Democratic lawmakers who called this week for the resignation of Republican Rep. Bill Seitz because of offense remarks. "Women and men deserve better, not more of the same tired excuses. It's time for a change."

With his expulsion on Thursday, Arizona Rep. Don Shooter became the 15th state lawmaker to leave office since the start of 2017 (the others resigned) after being accused of sexual misconduct. About 20 others have faced lesser consequences, ranging from forced apologies to suspensions to the loss of powerful leadership posts, according to a state-by-state review by The Associated Press.

Sexual harassment investigations are ongoing against other state lawmakers, including in California, Hawaii, Kentucky and Oregon. On Friday, the Democratic leaders of the California Assembly and Senate released records that show four current lawmakers have faced such complaints since 2006, although none was formally disciplined. They include a 2017 allegation against a female lawmaker, Democratic Assemblywoman Autumn Burke, who later took responsibility for engaging in sexually charged banter.

The issue is already beginning to resonate in election campaigns. Women have stepped forward as candidates in five of the eight upcoming elections across the nation to replace lawmakers who resigned amid sexual misconduct allegations.

In California, a former legislative staffer who says she was aware that a co-worker was being sexually harassed is now running for the lawmaker's seat. The alleged incident happened years ago when former Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra was serving as chief of staff for another lawmaker. Bocanegra resigned in November amid multiple allegations.

Yolie Anguiano said she decided to run for Bocanegra's seat in Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley after the allegations surfaced and that she regrets not speaking up at the time about what she knew. Anguiano said she was fearful of retaliation and believes electing more women is critical to addressing issues such as health care and education.

"I want to have that seat at the table to bring up these policy issues but also to hold those folks who are hurting other people, whether they are men and women, to hold them accountable," she said.

In Oklahoma, Amber Jensen, a Democrat who represents a rural part of the state, is running to replace former state Sen. Bryce Marlatt, who resigned in September after being charged with sexual battery stemming from an incident with an Uber driver. Jenson said she attended last year's women's march in Oklahoma City and was inspired to see so many women stepping forward.

"I feel like a woman's voice is missing from the very conversations that affect all women," Jensen said. "I am tired of men making decisions for women."

In what could be a historic election, many women have said they plan to run for office this year for the first time at all levels of government, from statehouses to Congress. That is driven largely by Democratic frustration over the election of President Donald Trump, but the #MeToo movement also is playing a role.

Experts say lawmaker resignations and retirements can provide an opportunity for women, because it's easier for a political newcomer to be competitive in an open seat rather than challenging an incumbent with name recognition and a stockpile of campaign cash.

"When the issue is sexual harassment and men behaving very badly, it also opens up a window for a woman candidate," said Debbie Walsh, who leads the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. "Whether it's true or not, women are perceived to be more ethical and honest and far less likely to behave in the manner that these lawmakers did."

Some men also are citing accusations of sexual misconduct against male lawmakers as part of their impetus for mounting electoral challenges this year.

Brian Kent Strow, an economics professor at Western Kentucky University, said he was frustrated when negotiations to fix the state's multi-billion public pension debt fell apart last fall following reports that four Republican lawmakers had secretly signed a sexual harassment settlement. One of those lawmakers was Rep. Michael Meredith, Strow's representative and someone he had voted for in the past.

When the daughter of one of Meredith's Republican colleagues subsequently accused the lawmaker of sending her inappropriate Facebook messages, Strow decided to challenge Meredith in the Republican primary.

"That made me upset, that the real business of the state would get sidetracked because people were misbehaving personally," said Strow, adding: "I had basically had enough."

Meredith declined to comment Friday about the accusations or his re-election bid.

Taylor Mahoney/Arizona Daily Sun 

NAU President Rita Cheng