Flagstaff voters are one step closer to seeing an affordable housing bond on the 2020 ballot.
On Thursday, the city’s affordable housing commission voted unanimously to recommend the city council place a bond dedicated to lowering the cost of housing in Flagstaff on the ballot.
“It’s been brought up a lot today that we do need to encourage funding for a solution,” Commission Chair Nicole Ellman said. “I think a bond measure is necessary to accomplish the tackling of the affordable housing [issue], whatever that solution may look like.”
The commission’s decision came just days after the city council itself also discussed the potential of a housing bond.
Councilmember Austin Aslan said he hoped to see a housing bond on the 2020 ballot, but added the failure of the most recent housing bond hangs over the current effort.
“I want to see that pass, but I also don’t want to see that fail for the second time in as many elections,” Aslan said. “I think that would be pretty catastrophic for the overall effort.”
Council also directed city staff to hire a consultant to assist in any future polling, surveys or education efforts, be them on a housing bond or any number of other propositions.
But the possibility that voters could again shoot a housing bond down also dominated the conversation among the commission members. In 2018, the measure only garnered 48% of the vote.
Realtor Rick Lopez is not on the housing commission, but during public comments he said a challenge to the 2018 bond was that it did not have strong enough support on council in addition to being vague.
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When council placed the bond on the ballot in 2018, only four of the seven members supported the measure, with detractors citing the impact to the city’s bonding capacity and ideological issues.
“We had four votes on the council last time and one of those votes was a tepid vote, it wasn’t even a good solid vote,” Lopez said. “Regardless of who is sitting on the council at any point in time, it's reflective of the community as a whole because the community voted for them so if you have a divided council on the issue, you’re going to have a divided community on the issue.”
Lopez said the commission may need to ask council what they would be willing to support as the commission designs the bond.
Councilmember Jim McCarthy, acting as the housing commission liaison, said the bond's design may make it more or less attractive to council.
Given the concern over the bond's potential success, the commission elected to create a separate working group to specifically examine why the last bond may have failed and how to avoid the same pitfalls.
“While there may be trepidation about the idea of throwing money at the problem, I think it’s also important to keep that in mind that there aren’t really other options at this point outside of a bond measure,” Vice-Chair Khara House said.
Commissioner Tad Riggs expressed skepticism regarding a bond during the last meeting, specifically wondering if a bond would simply increase the cost of living for some residents to help others.
But two weeks later, he had softened on the possibility. Riggs pointed out that if the commission did not move forward with an affordable housing bond, voters may simply pass another proposed measure to address issues of parks or open space.
Riggs also seemed comforted by the fact that, as long as the bond the commission proposed did not exceed the city’s current borrowing capacity, residents would not be seeing an increase in their property taxes.
Riggs said if the commission can find a way to communicate that message to voters, the bond's passage would be made easier.
Adrian Skabelund can be reached at the office at firstname.lastname@example.org, by phone at (928) 556-2261 or on Twitter @AdrianSkabelund.