The recently released 2017 annual regional plan report disclosed how well the city is meeting the goals of the regional plan, but it also revealed new statistics on how Flagstaff residents are doing economically.
As the report showed, the percentage of residents living in poverty stayed essentially the same from 2016 to 2017 at about 23 percent. The national average was 13 percent in 2016, according to the census.
The report also showed that, on average, Flagstaff residents spend the majority of their income on the combination of housing and transportation costs.
According to city associate planner Carlton Johnson, the national benchmark cities should aim for is that residents to spend no more than 45 percent of their income on the combination of transportation and housing. But Flagstaff residents are spending an average of 56 percent on these needs.
Breaking that down, the report finds residents spending 31 percent of their income on housing and 25 percent on transportation.
With Flagstaff residents spending so much on both housing and transportation, Council continued a discussion on adjusting city codes that some say “criminalize sleep.” Specifically, Council discussed changes to the camping ordinance and the ordinance governing those utilizing RVs as homes within the city.
The camping ordinance, adopted in 2005, makes it a class 3 misdemeanor, the lowest level, to camp within city limits. Council considered making changes to the code earlier this year but decided against it. Those living in RVs are permitted to stay on private property with the express permission of the property owner, but only for up to five days.
On private property, people are permitted to sleep in their vehicles for one night but must leave by 10 a.m. the next day.
One idea that was brought up was the possibility of a “safe parking program.” This would be the creation of a parking lot designated as a place where those who are living out of their vehicles can spend the night.
Other cities have implemented similar parking lots, which often provide bathrooms, power and security measures such as fences or guards.
Ross Altenbaugh, the executive director of Flagstaff Shelter Services, said the money the city might spend on the implementation of such a program would be better used simply increasing the funding for the social services the city already has.
“My responsibility and the responsibility of my coworkers at partner agencies is to be in pursuit of ending homelessness, and the answer to homelessness is housing,” Altenbaugh said. “It’s not a parking lot in somebody else’s backyard.”
Altenbaugh added Flagstaff Shelter Services already allows people to park and sleep in their parking lot, and those who do are asked to sign up with shelter services either before or after they stay the night.
But councilmember Eva Putzova wondered if the implementation of such a lot might provide yet another opportunity for people to get connected to social services.
Emily Melhorn, the interim executive director for Friends of Flagstaff's Future, also encouraged Council to change the code so that people could live in RVs on private property for longer than five days as an easy way to increase the amount of affordable housing within the city.
“There are a lot of people who would rather live in an RV than in shelters,” Melhorn said, adding that many who may want to live in an RV might not need the services of a shelter.