Today’s dominant front page story by Assistant Managing Editor Ron Eland explores Sedona’s perennial housing shortage.
“Affordable housing,” and the lack thereof, has been a recurring nightmare for residents. In Sedona, “affordable housing” doesn’t necessarily mean Section 8 federally subsidized housing, but rather, housing options that don’t require a sixfigure income or six roommates just to make rent.
City officials, commissions, committees and ad hoc groups have debated how to offer reasonably affordable housing options in Sedona for decades, but as wages stagnate and rents increase, cheap housing is harder and harder to find.
The new wrench in the works is the statewide abolishment of local short-term rental bans, meaning homeowners are opting to make quick bucks converting their long-term rentals into vacation rentals, reducing housing options for even longtime residents.
Last year, we ran a short series on the problems the Sedona business community faces regarding workforce shortages.
The two crises are related. The vast majority of Sedona’s businesses are mom-and-pop operations with a single location. If a sole proprietor shop with four employees loses a staffer, that’s 20 percent of its workforce. Hiring a qualified employee who knows the products or the services or the customers takes time, overworking the other staffers to maintain the level of service.
In a worst-case scenario, the shop has to reduce hours, reducing income and putting the business at risk of not paying its bills or its rent. Commercial rents, especially in high-traffic areas of the city, are already high and reduced hours mean these small businesses often face existential crises when employees depart.
Large firms, like resorts, can move staff around to cover what needs to be done, or have enough financial resources to offer consistently competitive wages. Most small businesses in the city do not have that luxury.
Hiring from out of the area offers its own challenges.
Our newspaper’s high standards require that reporter applicants have a degree in journalism or comparable experience and that our photographers have a degree in photojournalism or experience shooting news, which means nearly all of our applicants are from outside the Verde Valley.
The trouble we’ve faced in hiring as a small, family-owned newspaper with no connection to a massive national or statewide corporate chain has always been housing.
Our salary offerings are competitive in our industry but more than one qualified applicant has balked when looking for where they will live if hired. Fortunately with our connections in the community, we’ve been able to find creative temporary housing solutions until new hires were able to find long-term living arrangements.
The city’s recent decision to eliminate maximum housing density will allow developers to build economically viable apartment complexes along Sedona’s commercial corridor, providing housing opportunities for young people and working families.
Those families will enroll their kids in local schools, increasing per student education funding from the state. More residents also means more local spending in shops and restaurants, especially during the tourist offseason when many of these businesses are desperate for customers, and thus more tax revenue collected for the city.
With more bodies in the city, we will face additional challenges to traffic and infrastructure, which will require commensurate adaptation by city staff and elected officials to solve them.
Christopher Fox Graham
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