Eighteen months ago, Ariel Enriquez found space for her five children at Park Place Condominiums in North Tucson. Shortly after they moved in, the rent went up $200 to $1,700. With his struggle to pay the increase, the single dad fell behind and was charged late fees, driving his rent to over $1,800. The family was evicted in April.
Enriquez, who is an independent contractor, gathered his five boys and moved into a rundown apartment owned by a family member on the south side of Tucson, nearly 14 miles from the Park Place condominiums. A three-bedroom, two-bathroom unit in Park Place like the one Enriquez rented now costs $1,800 a month, an increase of $300 in less than two years.
“I’ve been in apartments that went up $70 or $80, maybe even $100 for a nice place. This one went up $200,” Enriquez said. “I remember seeing apartments that were $700, $800 just three years ago, and now they’re $1,300. Why the hell has the price gone up so much? It does not mean anything.”
Rents are rising across Arizona, as they are across the country, but Tucson, once considered sleepy and affordable, has seen a particularly painful spike. The median rent in Tucson in June was $1,795, up 30% from June 2021, according to Zillow data at press time. And with rising rents, gentrification is pushing people out of once affordable neighborhoods.
“It’s been going on for a few years. That’s when we saw the most people leaving their neighborhoods,” said Betty Villegas, executive director of the South Tucson Housing Authority.
“And we’ve seen it time and time again, people were overpriced natural rentals. And rents, you know, were starting to go up,” she added, referring to the usual supply of affordable housing. in older neighborhoods.
The redevelopment and promotion of high-end housing has placed particular pressure on West Tucson and the downtown area.
Older neighborhoods that were traditionally low-income and predominantly Hispanic are shifting to market-priced housing, under pressure from new developments in neighboring areas, with apartments renting for up to $3,000 per month . Residents of Armory Park, Menlo Park, the City of South Tucson and other communities are struggling to afford to live in neighborhoods where their families moved decades ago.
Menlo Park is a good example.
The area is mostly home to older, fixed-income Mexican Americans who settled there after World War II, said Raul Ramirez, vice president of the Menlo Park Neighborhood Association. But now the neighborhood has become a target for developers.
Interest especially increased after the completion of the SunLink streetcar in 2014. Menlo Park is at the last two stops of the streetcar, effectively connecting the neighborhood to downtown Tucson and the sprawling UofA campus.
Students and young professionals have started moving in, and the median rent at press time is up $689 over the past year, according to Zillow.
“Now they’re converting some of these apartments at market, at the current market rate, so everything is super expensive,” Ramirez said. “And the people who are really affected then are the tenants.”
With a housing shortage, more developers want to build near downtown and take advantage of the government’s excise tax on Tucson real estate leases, or GPLET, a tool that gives the city the power to grant incentives to construction in specific areas. The city’s 10-year-old GPLET program subsidizes property taxes for up to eight years for projects in the central business district.
The GPLET has “been used to breathe new life into outdated, poorly maintained properties that were hotspots for crime and are now contributing to Tucson’s economic growth,” according to the Tucson Office of Economic Initiatives.
Tucson has 24 GPLET deals, with a few completed projects including The Herbert, which converted a seniors’ apartment complex into market-priced luxury housing. The conversion of Armory Park was one of the city’s first GPLET projects, completed in 2013. Under the plan, elderly residents were moved to another facility on the south side of Congress Street, which is the main thoroughfare downtown.
One of the more recent GPLET projects is Union on 6th, an apartment complex just a few blocks west of UofA.
Union on 6th is on rent for the fall, with bachelor apartments starting at $1,315 per month and two bedrooms up to $2,480, well above the median rent in Tucson. Facilities include a movie theatre, swimming pool and residents’ pavilion.
But some fear the projects will fuel the gentrification of older neighborhoods.
“Given all these incentives, you would think they would be in a prime position to subsidize some low-income housing, but they don’t, it’s all at market price.” said Ramirez.
Kevin Burke, assistant director of economic initiatives for Tucson, wouldn’t comment on whether GPLET projects are contributing to gentrification.
“The question has been put to the city, we’ve got people coming to town and saying, ‘These GPLET projects are causing gentrification,’ and we’re not going to sit around and say yes or no to that,” Burke said. .
But he cited a 2021 study by Gary Pivo, a UofA professor who studies sustainable cities and responsible real estate investing, on the equity and sustainability of the GPLET project in Tucson.
Pivo’s study found that GPLET projects were not the cause of gentrification, primarily because they are a small part of downtown development. However, he also said the GPLET program could do more to help displaced people and businesses.
Although the share of Hispanic and Latino population in the central business district, which encompasses most of downtown, fell only 0.4% from 2012 to 2018, the years studied by Pivo, the report indicates that the decline was greater in traditionally Latino neighborhoods surrounding the neighborhood, including Barrio Viejo, Santa Rosa, Barrio Hollywood and parts of Menlo Park.
The report also indicates that traditional family businesses are faring worse in the Central Business District than in other parts of the city or Pima County, likely due to the loss of long-time customers displaced by higher rents. students.
The report says GPLET should look for opportunities to create affordable housing for people who earn less than $35,000 a year. For example, large housing developments could provide a number of affordable units and work with local affordable housing developers.
Since 2010, the Pima County Community Land Trust has provided housing for 111 low-to-moderate income families by remodeling or building on land purchased with donations and funding from Tucson and the county.
“Investors are coming in and looking for these older neighborhoods…and the danger is that it will displace people,” said Maggie Amado-Tellez, the trust’s executive director. “Because right now everyone, regardless of gentrification, everyone is in a financial bind – that they have to sell their house. Although they can get a good amount of money, what house can they go buy? Where?”
Monica Gutierrez, a Ph.D. student at the ASU School of Social Work, said gentrification has hidden effects and strains on families. The people who stay have to put up with construction headaches.
“You’ve got a lot of dust in the air, you’ve got a lot of cut metals, gases from equipment that are used to move space and shape it into what it’s going to be,” Gutierrez said. “The city isn’t thinking ‘How are we going to protect the citizens around this?’ What policies are in place to protect citizens from these toxic fumes? »
People who leave lose their communities and have to travel farther for work, school and groceries, she added.
“We don’t think about the displacement and health effects of this work. And so, while we may use gentrification as a buzzword, we need to dig deeper because it’s not just about gentrification,” Gutierrez said.
Since Enriquez’s family moved south at the end of April, his five sons have been hit hard. They will have to change schools at the start of the next school year. In the meantime, the boys have continued to attend the same school, adding 30 minutes to their morning routine. And soaring gas prices have not favored Enriquez for longer trips.
The air conditioning in the new apartment is broken, the windows are old and it is not insulated, which makes it hot inside during the day. Enriquez said his kids have been coughing a lot since moving in because of the dust and no cleaning has improved the situation.
“I’ve been extremely busy trying to make the best of our situation,” Enriquez said. “The boys miss the much more comfortable apartment we were in and hate the sudden move.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has also significantly affected Tucson tenants, especially working-class people and people of color, said Zaira Livier of the Tucson Tenants Union. Although the city has introduced assistance programs for those affected by rent increases and relocation during the pandemic, she said, it is difficult to get real help from these programs.
“We talk to people all the time who are waiting for these things, and while they’re waiting, they always get kicked out,” Livier said. “Or they get paid their rent and the landlord still evicts them because these things come with no strings attached to the landlord.”
The Tucson Tenants Union, along with Jobs for Justice Arizona and Casa Maria Soup Kitchen, staged a protest earlier this year against Monterey Garden Apartments for raising rents and prices for tenants in their apartments. The majority of tenants were in low-income or Section 8 housing, which uses government vouchers to help pay for private housing.
Jesse Maison, a customer service representative who works from home, moved into Villas de la Montaña apartments near Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in eastern Tucson in July 2021. His one-bedroom apartment rented 700 $ per month, House said, but since then the resort has been making repairs and renovations. For the renovated units, the rent increased by $400 per month.
He is paying the $1,100 at the moment but will eventually have to move. He can’t afford it.
Cronkite News reporter Melissa Estrada contributed to this report.
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