PHOENIX, ARIZONA - JULY 21:  An aerial view of people gathered near a homeless encampment in the afternoon heat on July 21, 2022 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
PHOENIX, ARIZONA - JULY 21: An aerial view of people gathered near a homeless encampment in the afternoon heat on July 21, 2022 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Housing experts say Kari Lake’s plan criminalizes homelessness, while Hobbs’ plan provides realistic affordable housing solutions. 

Arizona has long been facing an affordable housing crisis. 

According to the state Department of Housing, Arizona is short 270,000 housing units just to keep up with population growth. 

And in Maricopa County, the state’s largest, evictions are higher than they’ve been since 2008

The two candidates vying to be Arizona’s next governor—Democrat Katie Hobbs and Republican Kari Lake—have each released plans outlining how they would address housing. 

Three housing experts reviewed the plans and let us know their thoughts. 

A Bigger Picture

Amy Schwabenlender is the executive director of the Human Services Campus, a multi-organization coalition dedicated to ending homelessness in Arizona. Their campus is located in downtown Phoenix next to The Zone—a section of streets where unsheltered people camp. Schwabenlender said a count on Tuesday showed 906 people were camped in the area. 

Schwabenlender noted that Lake’s plan talks about homelessness but doesn’t say much about housing as a whole, which Schwabenlender says is key to actually fixing the crisis. 

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“The Lake document tends to focus on blaming the people who are experiencing homelessness for being unhoused and taking a very punitive approach to dealing with homelessness, and not recognizing what leads people to be unhoused,” she told The Copper Courier. 

Mike Shore, CEO of HOM, Inc., agreed that Hobbs’ plan takes a more comprehensive view of housing. 

“[Lake] speaks very little about housing,” he said. “It’s more about her enforcement and punitive approach.” 

Criminalizing Homelessness

Joan Serviss, executive director of the Arizona Housing Coalition, said Lake’s plan contains red flags right from the beginning. 

“First sentence right out of the gate: ‘homeless encampments,’ ‘drugged-out and deranged individuals’—that’s just really some really terrible language right there,” she said. 

Lake’s plan proposes sheltering and offering treatment to unhoused people, but a big component of it is arresting individuals who don’t comply. 

“We’re going to get them off of our streets, one way or another,” the plan states. 

Shore said punitive responses that lead to arrests are “inhumane,” and they don’t solve the problem. 

“Policing and enforcement and moving people along really just moves homelessness around either to other neighborhoods or worse yet, into other institutional systems,” he said. “And even if somebody does go to a place and they receive services, the reality is that when they’re ready to go back out and to get into permanent housing, there’s still not a housing solution. That intervention did not end their homelessness, it just put it out of sight, out of mind.” 

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Lake’s plan does call for expanding temporary shelter facilities and investing in long-term facilities, but with the stipulation that once enough shelter beds are available, she would ban urban camping statewide. 

“The other issue is that people who are experiencing homelessness who are unsheltered may have reasons for not going into shelter,” Shore said. “They may have been there previously and had a poor experience. They may have disabilities that make it really prohibitive for them to live in a congregate shelter environment.” 

Schwabenlender also noted this approach “places a burden on the public safety system.” 

“It’s a shell game by moving people around instead of having a conversation about why are they unhoused in the first place,” she said.

Housing First

A big difference between the two plans comes down to the Housing First approach, a philosophy that unhoused people must be given stable housing first before other problems—such as mental illness or substance abuse—can be effectively addressed. 

Lake’s plan claims that success with Housing First is rare, and the better approach is to lead with services and make housing a reward. 

But Shore pushed back on this, saying HOM, Inc., in partnership with nonprofits, has housed 1,200 families experiencing homelessness over the past two years using the Housing First approach. Of those 1,200 families 85% of them are still living in stable housing. 

“This notion that Permanent Supportive Housing and Housing First are failed as interventions just do not jive,” he said. 

Serviss said while Housing First may not work in every case, the Arizona Housing Coalition has seen it succeed in pilot programs working with medically vulnerable people. 

“I know firsthand that Housing First does work, and it is a cost effective model,” she said. 

Hobbs’ plan does not mention Housing First, but the candidate told The Copper Courier she supports the approach. 

Housing Solutions

Lake does include one strategy for reducing rent costs, and that is by eliminating taxes paid on rent

Shore said he agrees with this, although municipalities have pushed back saying this proposal would cut into their revenues and ability to provide services. Hobbs told The Copper Courier the tax relief would “cripple cities, in terms of their ability to provide public safety” while not making a big dent in a person’s rent bill. 

Hobbs’ plan contains many more ideas for increasing the state’s supply of affordable housing, including:

  • Encouraging cities and towns to implement zoning changes that allow for more housing inventory
  • Reforming current eviction protections and providing legal aid to tenants 
  • Allowing cities and towns to regulate short-term rentals
  • Incentivizing property owners to sell to families who will live in the home rather than corporate investors
  • Investing $200 million into the Housing Trust Fund

Agencies Working Together

Another point the housing experts were excited about was Hobbs’ proposal to reconvene the Interagency Council on Housing and Homelessness. 

Serviss said this council stopped meeting under Gov. Doug Ducey’s administration, and she has wanted it back since. Shore called reconvening the council “a wise move.”  

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“There’s an opportunity for, at the state level, departments to work together, and coordinate their resources,” Schwabenlender said, “and that commission had success in the past. I think that would demonstrate the state really having an investment in the effort to address, and end homelessness.” 

Overall, the experts agreed they felt Hobbs’ plan was a better strategy for actually addressing affordable housing in Arizona. 

“This is clearly a plan that is in touch with those of us in the sector who are doing the work and seeking to find [answers to:] what are the barriers to getting more supply on the ground, how do we make that supply more affordable?” Shore said.

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