The college town’s demand can be so high that landlords are charging potential renters just to view a property—and they can, because so many people are waiting in line and willing to pay.
This story is part one in a two-part series about housing affordability in Flagstaff. See part two about student housing here.
The city of Flagstaff has some of the highest housing costs in the state, with limited land to grow on and a major university controlling much of the housing stock—and it’s not trending in a direction favorable to renters.
National forests and tribal lands that encompass the city hinder Flagstaff from growing outwards, resulting in less land to build housing on—not to mention the gentrification of an area that many Native Americans reside in.
Gentrification is the process of displacing lower-income residents of a city due to wealthier populations moving in and increasing property values and rents.
Six indigenous Native American tribes make up more than a quarter of Coconino County’s population, the county Flagstaff is in.
“Housing creation is something we have to think creatively about,” said Ross Schaefer, executive director of Flagstaff Shelter Services. “I believe our biggest challenge is housing stock—there is just not enough housing that people can afford.”
“We Got Lucky”
Caitie Quick is a Flagstaff renter who moved to the city in 2021 after her partner found a job there.
The couple, who were expecting a child at the time of their housing search, consider themselves lucky to have found an affordable townhome listed online after a frustrating search for housing.
Their landlord is a former Flagstaff City Council member, Eva Putzova, who Quick said was transparent and upfront with the couple about the rent and application process.
Quick and her partner pay $1,750 for a three-bedroom townhome with an enclosed garage, and have not experienced any rent raises so far.
However, the couple had to jump on the opportunity to have affordable housing very quickly—and not without unexpected costs.
Quick’s partner saw the listing on Zillow while they were still in the Valley, only 20 minutes after the property had been listed. They ended up signing the lease having never seen the property in person, for fear of it being taken by another renter before they could make the drive back to Flagstaff.
The lease began in May 2021, but she and her partner were not ready to move until a couple months after that. They ended up paying rent on it for two months just to keep the townhome from being rented to another tenant.
They were told from people in the area that landlords would not hold the property for them because of the number of people waiting behind them to rent—they were arguing eight offers on it, Quick said.
“Be prepared to move at the speed at which this market is moving. It’s still not fast enough,” Quick said.
Quick and her partner spent about $4,000 in their search for housing in Flagstaff, from traveling expenses and paying double rent.
“[We] used some of our student loans to secure this place and then we had to use credit cards, and I cashed out some of my vacation days at my old job to get money to kind of cobble together to stay on top of our bills in Phoenix,” Quick said.
There was no room to negotiate on other properties they viewed—the minute the landlord felt they were not taking it seriously, they would move on to the multiple people behind them, Quick said.
For many properties they viewed, Quick and her partner were given ranges on the rent that would have a discrepancy of about $1,500—preventing them from trying to budget on living expenses.
Quick has known people who went to an open house on a rental, and by the time they arrived someone else was already signing a lease. For one property Quick was interested in touring, there was a fee just to view the property.
Many of the apartments they toured charged not by the unit, but by the amount of people in the unit, and would have charged them more money once their baby was born, Quick said.
Gentrification of the City
Quick said single parents can’t afford to live in Flagstaff, and many people who have lived and worked in Flagstaff for years can’t afford it anymore.
“I think the amount of second-home ownership is absolutely a problem in our community. The fact is that as housing units become less available, the people most squeezed out are vulnerable people,” Schaefer said.
Short-term rentals like Airbnbs are increasingly popular in the city, and in Arizona as a whole. The state now has more than 60,000 short-term rental units, making up about 2% of the statewide housing stock, according to KJZZ.
“This is very much like a resort town in addition to being a college town,” Quick said.
Research shows that, generally, when short-term rentals begin to increasingly pop up, the housing affordability of the communities they are located in begins to decline.
Flagstaff is known as a little mountain town, but now contractors are building huge apartment complexes that are extremely modernized and have high rents.
“I feel like there’s a huge gentrification problem here as well, and that’s also pushing out local families, any local residents of Flagstaff,” Northern Arizona University student Lexi Dss said.
One luxury complex is being built just a short walk away from the historic downtown—and Dss said it has a greyscale and very modernized look that does not fit in at all.
Dss said she sees a relationship between more expensive housing being built and an increase in homelessness.
For cities with higher rents and low rates of rental-vacancies, rates of homelessness per capita rises.
All of these programs have a wait time of approximately 1-3 years and give preference to those who live and work in Flagstaff, according to the City of Flagstaff Housing Authority.
For emergency housing, contact the Front Door Program, an organization that prevents homelessness among those on waiting lists for housing.
Correction: A previous version of this article described the cost of rent for Quick as “just under $2,000.” The story now reflects the exact cost of rent, $1,750.
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