About the author: Cynthia Zwick is the executive director of Wildfire, a local nonprofit committed to ending poverty in Arizona by advocating for fair practices, collaborating on policy issues, supporting community-action initiatives, and working to stop poverty before it starts.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to see the reality of life in every Arizona city, including Phoenix, and the very real cracks in the various systems we rely on for survival and support, not to mention the ability to thrive.
Housing, and more specifically affordable housing, is one of the areas spotlighted as one in which this community is failing. Our failure leads to outcomes that include an inability to pay rent and utility bills, the need to house multiple family members in an apartment built to house one family, evictions, turning one’s car into one’s home, and an increase in homelessness or, at the very least, the fear of homelessness.
The inadequate inventory of affordable housing has become very clear during the pandemic. At the core of this and many other issues resulting in a continuing high poverty rate, evictions and homelessness, are low wages. Approximately 46% of the jobs in Arizona before the pandemic were low-wage jobs. Now many of those businesses which struggled to keep their doors open are just now beginning to rehire, if they’ve survived at all. It is essential that employees working a full-time job earn enough to pay their basic living expenses.
So as we look to create more affordable housing and work to prevent evictions and homelessness, it is imperative we look to redesign the systems that create these longer-term problems. First, we need to acknowledge the problems, and then we need to change them. We cannot remain comfortable addressing these larger systemic issues with a siloed, patchwork approach.
When the pandemic began, we heard over and over that “We’re all in this together.” Let’s prove that we mean it and work together on holistic and meaningful change to strengthen and support our entire community.
About this series: Led by Phoenix Community Alliance — Community Voices is a series about the impact of homelessness in Downtown Phoenix, and commonly-held myths, stereotypes and misperceptions of the issue.