Tempe Mayor Woods testifies at US Senate hearing for infrastructure needs

Jun 17, 2021, 4:25 AM
(Facebook Photo/Mayor Corey Woods)...
(Facebook Photo/Mayor Corey Woods)
(Facebook Photo/Mayor Corey Woods)

PHOENIX — Tempe Mayor Corey Woods on Tuesday testified before a U.S. Senate committee hearing to speak about the city’s infrastructure initiatives and needs of the city.

Woods in his speech touched on a number of topics such as the city’s needs for affordable housing, efforts to address homelessness and public transportation initiatives.

Tempe’s median income is about $58,000, according to Woods, but the average home cost is more than $270,000, which is nearly 25% higher than the national average.

“In Tempe, this disparity between income and housing costs results in 42% of renters and 24% of homeowners being considered cost-burdened, which HUD (U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development) defines as when a household pays more than 30% of their annual gross income on housing expenses,” Woods said.

Meanwhile, Woods said Tempe’s unsheltered population increased over 900% from 2015 to 2020.

He added federal programs have become essential components in delivering housing options for vulnerable populations.

The city has also heavily invested in affordable housing initiatives, according to Woods, including a program that negotiates voluntary contributions from developers that has raised millions of dollars for an affordable housing fund while also investing $1.2 million to conduct environmental and archaeological assessments of city-owned land for the eventual development of affordable housing.

“Unfortunately, even with the city’s own investments, private partnerships, and creative use of federal programs, we do not come close to meeting the needs of our cost-burdened residents nor addressing our extraordinary increase in unsheltered individuals,” Woods said. “Tempe has benefited greatly from a 55% increase in allocations of CDBG (Community Development Block Grant), HOME and ESG (Emergency Solutions Grant) over the last five years, and this upward trajectory of federal support is critical for us to continue our collaboration with our private and non-profit partners.

“We simply cannot begin to meet the housing needs of our residents without increased federal support.”

Woods also spoke on the city’s transportation growth strategy, including the existing metro Light Rail system and a new streetcar project that is set to debut later this year.

The federal government recently approved additional funding for the project, which Woods said could expand the streetcar from Tempe to Mesa.

Woods ended the speech discussing the city’s management through challenging financial times during the COVID-19 pandemic, which included the city’s hotel transaction privilege tax revenues taking a 50% hit in January 2021 compared to January 2020, while tax revenue from restaurants/bars and amusements were down over 20% and 60%, respectively, over the same period.

“We have been proactive in enacting cost-cutting measures for the city, and federal aid has played an important part in helping to maintain services while offering relief programs for our residents and businesses,” Woods said. “Increased investments in infrastructure would provide the city with an important tool to address the negative economic impacts of COVID-19 and continue to develop our community with a sustainable and smart approach.

“We need continued and increased federal dollars to supplement our local investments in affordable housing, public transit, infrastructure and programs to provide relief to the homeless, those at risk of eviction and other at-risk groups as our economy recovers and local revenues get back on track.”

Democratic U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema is part of the committee that includes 24 senators, 12 Democrats and 12 Republicans.

She introduced Woods to the committee.

“I’m happy to welcome my friend, Tempe Mayor Corey Woods, as we work with leaders across our state to ensure Arizona infrastructure needs are met to keep creating jobs and expanding economic opportunities,” Sinema said in a press release.

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Tempe Mayor Woods testifies at US Senate hearing for infrastructure needs