Arizona Housing Advocate Says Build Back Better Plan Could Effectively End US Homelessness

By Jessica Swarner

October 27, 2021

“If we can stabilize people in stable housing, we can change the direction of people’s lives.” 

Daniella Barreras and her fiance, like many other Arizonans, found themselves unable to pay their rent due to job loss over the COVID-19 pandemic. 

But they were able to make it through without losing their home thanks to the affordable housing complex they live in.

“The fact of the matter is, we would not have been able to pay any other bills if we were living anywhere else in this area,” the Native American Connections (NAC) resident said. 

RELATED: Middle-Class Arizonans Are Being Pushed Out of the Housing Market

A three-bedroom apartment in the heart of downtown Phoenix could easily go for $2,000+ a month, NAC CEO DeDe Devine said. But at an NAC building, the cost is about $790 per month. 

Devine said this disparity highlights the need for more affordable housing throughout the state, something that could be achieved through President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better plan. She called on Congress to make housing a priority in this agenda. 

“Arizona needs bold investment in all types of housing—from shelter to homeownership and everything in between,” she said. 

Where the Legislation Stands

Much of the Build Back Better plan is currently being debated in Congress as part of the budget reconciliation package. 

The legislation would make major investments in affordable housing, including $90 billion for rental assistance, $80 billion for public housing repairs, and $37 billion to bolster the National Housing Trust Fund. Supporting affordable housing options is part of Democrats’ larger, decade-long investment in social and climate programs. 

The bill has been stalled by two moderate Democratic senators, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who have been demanding changes more favorable to corporations and the wealthy.

Arizona Housing Advocate Says Build Back Better Plan Could Effectively End US Homelessness

Joan Serviss, executive director of the Arizona Housing Coalition, said if the bill passes with the current funding levels proposed, it “could effectively end homelessness in the United States.” 

“It is critical that Congress use this once-in-a-generation opportunity of the Build Back Better budget reconciliation to prioritize investments in decent, accessible, and affordable housing for all,” Serviss said. 

Current federal funding levels are so low, she said, that three out of four Americans eligible for help do not receive it. 

“Our government’s housing policy and funding stagnation has been broken for people of color, women, and low-income people for decades,” she said. 

An Anchor For Life

Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Phoenix) said that while his housing situation growing up wasn’t great—he slept not on a bed but on a living room floor—the fact that he stayed in the same home for seven years made a huge difference for him. 

“If we can stabilize people in stable housing, we can change the direction of people’s lives,” Gallego said. 

Devine echoed this, saying accessibility to stable housing affects everything from hunger to domestic violence to education.  

“Safe, affordable, stable housing is the anchor to everything else in a person’s life,” she said. “… If you live in a stable house, it increases children’s GPA and high school graduation rates, just from stable living.” 

For Gallego, the Build Back Better plan’s investments are critical to ensure Arizona doesn’t become a state of the haves and have nots.

“If we continue the way we are … the people who have been able to buy homes or own homes are going to be great,” he said. “The people that are trying to buy a new home or trying to get into an affordable apartment are going to be the ones that are going to find themselves in a very tricky and unstable situation.”

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  • Jessica Swarner

    Jessica Swarner is the community editor for The Copper Courier. She is an ASU alumna and previously worked at KTAR News 92.3 FM in Phoenix.

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