Increasing population density could ease rising rents in Arizona, ASU professor says

Mar 1, 2022, 4:25 AM
(Pexels Photo)...
(Pexels Photo)
(Pexels Photo)

PHOENIX — An Arizona State University professor said an increase in housing density could help ease rising rent in the state, but negative public perception would be an obstacle.

While rents are on the rise in Arizona, with some reports finding they rose as much as 19% on average last year, an increase in the density of housing, for some people, conjures images of crowded streets and less privacy.

Public sentiment has also influenced policy on the issue, according to Arizona State University real estate professor Mark Stapp.

“Just the prospect of having higher density is bothersome to certain residents,” Stapp said. “It puts a lot of pressure on public officials.”

That’s resulted in legislation banning things like rent control and inclusionary zoning that could increase the amount of affordable housing stock.

Stapp explains that rising rent prices are part of a chain reaction.

“We’re a very diverse economy, we’ve been growing rapidly and that employment growth drives population growth,” he said.

“That population growth drives housing demand… you’re going to get upward pressure on pricing.”

Despite the legal barriers to building specifically affordable housing, building more units could keep prices from rising simply because it will make the supply match the demand.

Stapp said density, when done right, can actually have a lot of positive outcomes.

He used traffic as an example, saying while people might assume a higher population density would lead to worse traffic, that doesn’t have to be the case.

“Densities in the right places, near employment centers, can reduce traffic because you don’t have people who have to commute from farther distances,” Stapp said.

He adds pushing development to the outskirts instead of building up city centers makes things more difficult for workers who are looking for a place to call home.

“We’re talking about building community when we’re talking about apartment rents and employment, wages and transportation.”

Stapp stresses the end goal – to build more units and bring down the cost of rent – is imperative for Arizona’s future.

“The employers are going to have a hard time getting those employees,” he says, discussing high rent prices. “That’s when it really becomes an economic development problem. We become less competitive.”

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Increasing population density could ease rising rents in Arizona, ASU professor says