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Flagstaff resident survey highlights strengths, room for growth

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Downtown Flagstaff

A shot of downtown Flagstaff near the Hotel Monte Vista.

Flagstaff residents continue to experience a high quality of life, but housing affordability poses barriers to residents hoping to remain in the community, a recent survey found.

The 2021 Flagstaff Resident Survey “serves as a consumer report card” for the city, and allows residents an opportunity to rate their satisfaction with the quality of life, amenities and local government, according to city officials.

It found that 71% of Flagstaff residents rated their quality of life “good” or better, with 27% of respondents falling in the highest “excellent” category.

But the results also indicate that more than 60% of residents are either “somewhat” or “very” likely to leave the community due to housing costs. Additionally, 64% of renters said a lack of available homes in their price range was a barrier to home ownership.

The city commissioned Polco National Research Center to conduct this year’s Flagstaff Resident Survey.

The last time a resident survey was completed by the city was in 2013. Since then, the population has grown about 15%. It was the 10th time a community survey was completed and the second that was done by mail.

Erin Caldwell, a senior research associate at Polco, said during last week’s Flagstaff City Council meeting that the survey was administered by mail to 2,000 random households within Flagstaff city limits, receiving 434 completed responses. Instructions were written in English and Spanish.

Caldwell referred to the survey as “statistically valid,” adding that the results were weighted to reflect the community demographic. She said researchers have placed the margin of error at plus or minus 5%.

“These results provide you the opportunity to see how residents view the quality of life in Flagstaff, to obtain their evaluations of government performances and city services," Caldwell told city council.

Caldwell said researchers have determined benchmarks comparisons from a database of more than 500 survey results from communities around the country. Flagstaff was compared both to national benchmarks and “peer communities,” which show similarities in population size, income and demographics.

When compared with both national and peer community results, Flagstaff found itself in the standard range when it comes to “overall quality of life.” It also presented similar findings to the 2013 survey, with a slight increase.

About 9 in 10 respondents rated Flagstaff “excellent” or “good” as a place to live and as a place to visit, while about 8 in 10 were pleased with their neighborhood as a place to live and Flagstaff as a place to raise children.

The results found these items were rated similarly to the national and peer community benchmarks -- except for Flagstaff as a place to visit -- which was much higher than both averages.

Another portion of the survey asked respondents to rate the community's top characteristics and found that the surrounding nature is a major draw. The top-rated community characteristic was the “overall natural environment,” with “health and wellness opportunities” coming in a close second.

Flagstaff’s open space, the preservation of natural areas and local education opportunities rounded out the bottom of the top five community characteristics.

Caldwell spoke to the city council about the “housing concerns” uncovered by the survey, notably the 6 of 10 residents who said they were likely to leave the community due to housing costs. It is a 13% increase from the 2013 survey.

Researchers classified responses to the question “What is the one thing the city can do to increase your quality of life?” and found that improving housing affordability was rated the No. 2 response. Housing affordability was similarly rated the No. 3 response when residents were asked to rank their top three priorities for government spending.

Caldwell presented six key findings in total, with the first being quality of life and housing barriers. Other key findings included the city’s highly regarded transportation system, noting the urban trail system and Mountain Line bus services specifically, and a positive view of city services.

When asked how well the city’s transportation system meets the community needs, 83% of respondents said it served the needs “somewhat” or “very” well. The finding was similar to results from 2013.

Despite the favorable view of public transit, however, the No. 1 response to both spending priorities and actions the city can take to increase the quality of life was to make improvements in mobility, transportation, traffic and roads.

The remaining two key findings involved public safety and government performance. The survey found that while residents generally feel safe in the community, many are concerned about certain crimes or discrimination.

While 8 in 10 respondents said they rated their overall feeling of safety as “good” or “excellent,” a new question on this year’s survey shed light on certain public safety concerns. When asked to select their top three community issues, many responses were centered on matters of public safety.

Out of a list of 25 concerns to choose from, 3 in 10 respondents listed disorderly conduct, public intoxication and noise violations as a top issue. Two in 10 respondents listed traffic issues, driving under the influence, drug abuse and domestic violence.

Another less favorable finding when compared to results from 2013 was the overall performance of city government. Compared to the previous survey, there was a decrease in ratings regarding the overall direction of the city, honesty and the value of service for taxes paid.

In all, 42% of respondents said the city was generally acting in the best interest of the community, while 40% said the government treated all residents fairly.

When compared to other communities across the nation, a few key ratings of Flagstaff’s overall government performance tended to be lower, Caldwell said.

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