Like many places in the United States, housing has become more expensive in Flagstaff over the past year. Costs for rental units of all sizes have increased, as have median home sales prices.
It’s nothing new to this town – most experts and residents say it’s been hard to find affordable housing here for as long as they can remember.
This week, the Daily Sun will share some insights, from tenants to real estate agents to local experts, on what housing in Flagstaff looks like right now and what it would take to make it more accessible to people who live here.
After declaring an affordable housing emergency in December 2020, the City of Flagstaff announced a 10-year plan to address it in February. The nearly 70-page document outlines the scope of the housing crisis and suggests various ways to achieve these goals, from incentivizing affordable housing to encouraging adaptive reuse of existing buildings and exploring ways to change the city’s zoning code.
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The 10-year plan says 27% of Flagstaff homeowners and 57% of renters are burdened with housing costs, meaning they spend 30% or more of their monthly income on housing. The cost of living is 13% higher than the national average and the cost of housing is 29% higher.
Some experts say the solution starts with building more homes; others say it’s policy or zoning to limit short-term rentals. Even more believe that the problem will require a series of interconnected programs over time, which may not even be enough. The city proposed a $20 million bond in the November ballot (Prop 442), though a similar move fell through in 2018.
Rents have increased in Flagstaff lately, as has competition for available apartments.
Housing Solutions of Northern Arizona released a Rent Affordability Report in March, examining 50 market-rate complexes and 10 income-constrained complexes in Flagstaff between November 2021 and January 2022. According to the report, an average one-bedroom apartment room in Flagstaff costs $1,497 per month, an increase of 18.6% from the 2020-2021 survey.
The survey also found that to pay the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment ($1,758 per month), a Flagstaff tenant earning minimum wage would have to work 86.9 hours per week, or more than two jobs. full time.
Ben Jarchow lived in Flagstaff for 13 years after moving to town as a child. He currently shares a studio with his girlfriend, which costs them around $1,100 a month in rent. They can “pretty well” afford the space between Jarchow’s job as a territory representative and his girlfriend’s job in the hospitality industry, he said.
Their last apartment search was “quite stressful”, he said.
“Trying to budget everything with the height of everything right now, trying to find a seat was difficult, but [we] ended up stumbling upon the one I’m on right now and it barely fits in the budget. That’s what we took,” he said.
Jarchow said he has rented a total of three apartments and a house in Flagstaff over the past six years. The couple have been living in their current location for about a year now.
He said rent was “much cheaper” when he was in college and started looking. He remembered that a one-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment would cost around $1,000 at the time.
“Back then it was a bit more forgiving I would say. But now it’s kind of a dogfight to get into any place right now that’s kinda doable, and the time frames and everything that’s certainly factored in. It’s been a bit more difficult these days,” he said.
Local owner Barry Levitan has also noticed an increase in demand, saying his office “is just flooded with [hold] requests” from apartment seekers.
Levitan is the owner of Levitan Investment Properties and Services (LIPS), which currently leases approximately 206 units in Flagstaff, primarily downtown. They have no vacancies at the moment and receive at least 20 to 30 calls a day asking for availability.
LIPS doesn’t have waiting lists because they would last at least a year or two, Levitan said, preventing new people from renting an apartment. Instead, the company lists units on its website when current tenants give notice (30 days) and the first person to contact them gets it, as long as their application and background check pass. Levitan said he knows people who check the site daily for vacancies.
He said that level of interest has continued for at least the past decade (Levitan has worked in the field for 30 years), the last time he remembers one of his units being on the market, 15 to 20 years ago.
It also sees more long-term tenants.
“It’s been remarkably low for several years,” he said. “Fifteen years ago we saw 20, 30, 40 rotations in the summer months and maybe half in the winter. These have just fallen.
At the start of the pandemic, LIPS had taken extra safety precautions and 30 to 50 tenants used state rental assistance. During that time, the company only evicted one person, Levitan said, who had tried to stop paying rent even though his job was unaffected by the pandemic.
“During the pandemic, we haven’t had a lot of moves and we’ve cut a lot of time for people who couldn’t pay rent. I would say most people were able to catch up with federal and state aid,” he said. Overall, he estimated the business lost between $40,000 and $60,000 in rent during the pandemic.
While LIPS raised prices “a little” this year, Levitan said that was based on rising tax rates and utilities rather than Flagstaff’s rental market. He also tries to give lower increases to long-term, reliable tenants.
“If I did a survey of the surrounding rents, I would probably be inclined to raise my rents,” he said.
Another Flagstaff owner, Leigh Call, emailed in response to a call from the Daily Sun. She rents five Sunnyside condos with her sister. Each has two bedrooms and a bathroom and rents for between $830 and $1,150 per month.
“I just hope Flagstaff knows that all owners aren’t ‘rolling in the dough’,” she wrote. “We’re currently pocketing $0, but if we increased the rent, we’d still feel a bit trapped in not keeping the extra money in savings for normal wear and tear or emergency needs.”
Jarchow advised other apartment seekers to find roommates to split the cost.
“Honestly, I think my best advice was to try and sleep with buddies how expensive everything is,” he said. “Either you find roommates or you’ll end up moving, because it’s very difficult trying to find a place on your own here.”
He said that while the couple are able to afford their current flat, they fear they will be able to buy one in the future.
“She and I are actually trying to get out and into a house, but it’s very difficult,” he said. They hope to buy a house within the next year or two, although he is worried about the current market.
“I’m really concerned about the height of everything and trying to figure anything out. It’s very difficult to find a place here,” he says. “…Right now, we’re trying to save as much as we can, given our high gas prices, groceries, even energy and all that. We try to put aside what we can, but at the moment we just try to keep the place we have and impose ourselves.