One cannot pick up a newspaper without seeing an article covering the severe housing shortage that currently plagues the nation. Scottsdale is not immune to this problem with housing and growth experts all agreeing that Scottsdale has a severe shortage of places to buy or rent and that moving forward it will only get worse.
Developers trying to fill this housing shortage are continually facing an outcry and strong opposition at Scottsdale planning and council meetings from powerful NIMBY (not in my backyard) citizen groups that are using every means at their disposal to stop what they see as the possible destruction of their neighborhood.
In fact, council candidates in Scottsdale recently won primary elections running on a specific and full frontal anti-apartment platform. Three candidates who failed in the primaries were all outspoken housing advocates, while the two candidates who did not win outright but made it through to the general election (Barry Graham and Pamela Carter) both have made it their platform to pander to the NIMBY crowd.
The use of the word NIMBY has become so prevalent that Webster’s Dictionary has added it to the list of accepted words. A noted economist at Dartmouth has proposed a definition saying that NIMBYism is a form of insurance where you are only protecting your neighborhood from going to hell and that the thinking goes that people are compensating by packing planning meetings to fight anything they perceive as a threat.
The result of this self serving activism is that Scottsdale is terribly short of housing opportunities. A recent housing study showed that Scottsdale is the only city in Phoenix where law enforcement cannot afford anything more that a one bedroom apartment and firefighters and teachers are entirely priced out.
When this affordability fact is published, the NIMBYs come out in full force and without any actual studies and claim that the critics are wrong and that Scottsdale has too many apartments.
To defend their anti-growth actions, the likes of Barry Graham, Councilwomen Whitehead and Littlefield all claim that when they oppose housing projects, they are only listening to the voices of their constituents. However in doing so, they are failing to understand that their responsibility lies with promoting the greater good for the city as a whole and in establishing regulatory barriers that prevent developers from building housing, where its most in demand, they are only pushing prices up and pushing people out.
Scottsdale is not the only place where housing opposition is a problem, other states and cities such as California, Seattle, Minneapolis, Austin and Connecticut have instituted new development laws to try and increase housing stock. Even the Biden administration has taken action to reward cities that enact plans to reform land use regulations aimed at increasing housing production. Only today, there was an article in the New York Times covering the rise of NIMBYism and it’s negative effect on New York housing affordability.
While our current mayor and council are busy patting themselves on the back over their anti-housing victories, they instead should take note of whats happening elsewhere, for instance, last year, the state of California under the mandate of Governor Newsom, created an “accountability and enforcement unit” to monitor whether or not local municipalities are approving new housing and if not the city could be hit with escalating fines.
One California legislator even put forth a bill that would have forced cities to allow four-to-eight-story buildings within a mile of rail stations or bus stops, regardless of local rules.
It gets worse, earlier this year, the state of California enacted what is thus far the most draconian of measures, it is known as Senate Bill Nine (SB9) which went into effect in January 2022. This new law requires cities and municipalities to ministerially (as in no rezoning required) approve two unit duplexes and lot splits on lots as small as 6,000 square feet. This law allows for two new residential units no smaller than 800 square feet to be built in the back yard.
This law effectively eliminates the single family zoning category in the entire state and allows up to four units on a typical 6,000-square-foot single family lot. The law further states that the cities cannot impose limits on parking or setback requirements but also says added these new “backyard duplexes” or “converted garages” cannot be used for short-term rentals.
Unless the likes of Ortega, Whitehead and Littlefield wake up a see how their antihousing policies are pushing our city over a cliff, a similar action like California’s SB9 will be the result as our state legislature steps in to solve the problem that our city leadership cannot or will not solve.