“I deserve affordable housing in Scottsdale”

by John Washington on July 12, 2019

I recently had an–interesting–social media conversation with a couple of keyboard warriors who are essentially demanding cheaper (“affordable”) housing in Scottsdale.

It’s clear from the comments they made that, while cloaked in proletariat self-righteousness, their motivation is really more about self-interest and entitlement than the “working class.”

The conversation started with an opinion piece posted under the Scottsdale “Independent” (so called) banner by Betty Janik, representing the Coalition of Greater Scottsdale.

I was a founding member of COGS. Unfortunately, the organization never really did much toward its stated purpose (land use issues) other than putting out the occasional informative email, so I went my own way after a few years.

And I didn’t even bother to read Betty’s opinion piece (reproduced below, for reference), because (as I correctly assumed) it was yet another toothless restatement of facts we already know… much of which sounds a lot like what I’ve been saying for a long time.

I will give Betty credit for having collated all those thoughts nicely in one place. However, she gets a demerit for this statement:

Overall, the city lacks a vision of the future that balances growth with maintaining the city’s desirability to the demographic that will financially support the city. COGS, and its members, worked diligently and extensively in presenting this position for the proposed General Plan 2035.

THAT is categorically false. The 2001 General Plan was ratified by the citizens and remains (along with the City Charter) the organic law of Scottsdale. Its very purpose is to provide that long-range vision for environmental AND fiscal sustainability. In my humble opinion, COGS “diligent” efforts to carry that vision forward into the “2035” update of the General Plan were woefully inadequate, starting with the notion that “update” equated to a wholesale re-write of the General Plan. But that’s a different discussion for another time.

A fellow named Jay Gurcsik commented on Betty’s article with:

It shouldn’t be a question of yes to density or no to density. The question remains as “how much density is appropriate and sustainable?” We can’t ignore the housing crisis like we have been. It is immoral and illogical to deny younger generations affordable housing while older generations enjoy the cheap desert sprawl and inflated property values. It is possible and more-sustainable to achieve density without tall buildings.

Almost everyone except those who profit agree: The density trajectory has no clear vision without a General Plan. To me, we’re trying a hail mary pass instead of blocking & tackling. Create electoral districts, pass General Plans by district, then run with the new visions. Governing in the dark is not governing. And to ask for bond approvals on top of this is insulting.

Betty is spot-on about recent development: “It has been proven that development does not pay for itself…” Developing density can make the city solvent, but it needs to be incremental and collaborative. Sure, the massive projects with lush projections are easier to sell, but it make us less-resilient and we lose on each transaction. And how often do we look at how the projections met reality?

I’ll give Jay credit for the notion that council districts are probably a good mechanism for helping the citizens sustain that vision. And he asks the right question: How much density is appropriate and sustainable? But Jay, like Betty, ignores the fact that they question has already been asked AND answered. We don’t need to do it again.

And unfortunately, Jay parrots some low-brow developer rhetoric with

It is immoral and illogical to deny younger generations affordable housing while older generations enjoy the cheap desert sprawl and inflated property values.”

Jay took issue with my reply:

“There’s plenty of affordable housing in the Valley. Less so in Scottsdale, but does everyone deserve cheap housing in Scottsdale?”

and doubled down with

“It’s also immoral to tell young people they can live elsewhere or that Scottsdale isn’t for them.”

“Immoral”? Wow. I’ve been called a lot of things, but never “immoral.” And I never said anything remotely like “Scottsdale isn’t for them [young people].”

While Jay doesn’t come right out and say it, there’s a strong theme of entitlement in his statement and his sentiment.

And that theme continues in the next comment, from Andrew Prather:

for the people that live and work and raise families in Scottsdale…..yes affordable housing should be available.

Prather continues with:

Affordable means with my wife and I working in Scottsdale 40+ hours a week have 2 kids in the school system here I should not have had to relocate to Gilbert to continue to afford life.”

I wonder if it ever occurred to Prather that if he can’t afford to live in Scottsdale, maybe he should consider getting a house AND a job in Gilbert?

Andrew’s friend, Tanner Van Parys carried it farther afield with,

the people who raised their families here, the people who make our tourism industry possible, the people who grew up here, yes.

Everyone deserves a place to live that is functional, modern, safe, and yes, affordable.

Really, how elitist do you have to be to think Scottsdale should be walled off from people who are less wealthy than you?

So, I guess I’m an “elitist” now, too! For thinking that market forces should dictate housing prices, and that folks should live within their means?

Van Parys, the 20-ish mailroom clerk, goes on to say I’m acting like a spoiled child… because I asserted that he doesn’t “deserve” a cheap house in Scottsdale. Hmmm!

I’m not a big fan of labels, mostly because I think they are largely inaccurate, and because folks use them as a crutch to parse out friends and enemies, in lieu of critical thinking.

To that end, I’ve never jumped on the “millennial”-bashing bandwagon. But I have to say after this exchange, if there was ever a case of a few giving the rest a bad name, this is it.

A cheap house (or apartment or whatever) in Scottsdale is not a “right.” You don’t “deserve” it.

You “deserve” opportunity. And you have it. Just like the rest of us.

I also think it would be helpful for those millennials to actually read Janik’s article, too. Because if they are going to clap her on the back, they should make sure it’s for the same reasons for which they are congratulating their own intellectually superiority and vast wisdom.


Betty Janik’s opinion piece:

The Coalition of Greater Scottsdale strongly opposes the current practice of increasing height and density to dramatically increase the city’s population at the expense of both resident’s quality of life and the city’s fiscal health.

One of Scottsdale’s strengths has always been its low-scale, low-height, uncongested, laid-back, western character. Building heights were kept low maintaining views while also keeping congestion low and manageable. Scottsdale’s wide diversity of housing and lifestyle opportunities, from urban environments to large rural, desert, and equestrian properties has appealed to a wide demographic increasing the city’s appeal and keeping property values high.

Residential development was dominated by single-family houses with some condos to support a more maintenance-free lifestyle. Scottsdale’s resident median age was in the mid-50s, which was ideal to maintain a balance of ages but also to maximize the city’s income per capita.

North Scottsdale further supports that diversity with a variety of large lot and lifestyle options, adding a rural desert experience that does not exist elsewhere. Scottsdale is a leader in living within the environment and North Scottsdale, with its lush Sonoran Desert, and Environmentally Sensitive Lands Ordinance to protect it, and has become the showcase of learning how to live within the environment instead of drastically changing it.

The current practice of increasing height and density throughout Scottsdale is forever changing this character and Scottsdale’s appeal to both tourists and residents, who have contributed significantly to Scottsdale’s prosperity, vitality, reputation and economy. It has been proven that development does not pay for itself so the more development we allow the higher the financial drain to the city.

In addition, while some apartments may be necessary, apartment dwellers in general do not contribute near as much to the city financially, yet will demand the same services and facilities, which will exacerbate the financial drain on the city.

Downtown is being transformed from its appealing combination of low-density residential, unique shopping experiences, art galleries, and small hometown feel, that attracted both tourists and residents, into a high-density urban experience similar to many other cities nationally that people came to Scottsdale to get away from.

Instead of being known for the unique western Old Town shops, 5th Avenue, and our Arts District we are now known for the highest concentration of bars in the Valley, creating a party scene that attracts an entirely different demographic and also has increased, noise, pollution, and crime.

All of this is driving out the demographic that supported the city financially while replacing it with a different demographic that won’t bring the city near as much income per capita further adversely impacting our financial sustainability.

The city used to have Character Areas to define and maintain our desirable character, neighborhood/specific area characteristics, and lifestyle, but they are all but non-existent now, are being ignored when zoning decisions are made, or intentionally changed by the city to support increased density.

The key to having a financially sustainable city is not continuing to grow but maintaining desirability to both visitors, who contribute significantly to the city financially, and more affluent residents who also contribute financially a net positive to the city. Just increasing the city’s population without regard to demographics, or its impact on quality of life and desirability, has pushed the city into a negative financial position as the cost to the city, to provide services and facilities to support that increased population, dramatically exceeds any additional income that may result from the population increase.

In addition, the negative impact on quality of life, is driving out the exact population demographic we need to attract to keep the city financially healthy. The financial impact is already being felt and is a major reason why the city as in excess of $800 million in unfunded projects and can’t pass a yearly budget that is financially sustainable.

Overall, the city lacks a vision of the future that balances growth with maintaining the city’s desirability to the demographic that will financially support the city. COGS, and its members, worked diligently and extensively in presenting this position for the proposed General Plan 2035.

However, special interest groups, with a desire to pursue extensive development of higher density residential units and commercial facilities all over Scottsdale, succeeded in convincing a council majority to completely disregard all the community input contained in the draft General Plan 2035. As a result, the council has failed in its obligation to present a new 10-year General Plan to the public for ratification.

For the above reasons, COGS strongly believes that further height and density increases, and/or change in use of Scottsdale property, should not be under-taken unless it can be proven that there are significant benefits to the city, including demonstrated long term positive financial impacts.

Continuing the current policy of increasing the height and density, beyond current zoned density, is driving the city into a huge financial abyss while reducing Scottsdale’s desirability to the demographic that we need to continue to attract to have any hope of being financially sustainable.

Editor’s note: Ms. Janik is the president of the Coalition of Greater Scottsdale

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Jay Gurcsik July 12, 2019 at 8:15 am

I’m not entitled to anything; I just advocate that my city provide housing that isn’t $500k+ for a stick & stucco box. But that is what we build because builders love the margins, not because it is the only option.

I’m not even arguing this for my benefit. We paid premium for a 60 year old ranch home that we work on every day because we want to live in this community. 3500% over the 1959 price; my only sin is I wasn’t here first.

Next time you’re down here, stop by and talk to those you look down on. I’m usually in the front yard or on the roof or in the attic or fixing a machine or helping my neighbors do the same.

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John Washington July 12, 2019 at 11:35 am

I guarantee you my house is older than yours.

And per my comment above, I’ve been on my own roof plenty in the last couple of weeks.

You sound like a good neighbor, as I try to be myself. But the notion that any city should “provide housing” of any kind (other than perhaps for the homeless, imho) is ludicrous. Taxpayer-funded subsidies (which aren’t limited to the form of cash) to ensure developer profits and/or cheaper housing for those who want a piece of your (or my) quality of life is not a sustainable model. Which is one reason Scottsdale has nearly $2 billion in debt, and wants to borrow another almost-billion to patch potholes and fix other infrastructure.

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Jay Gurcsik July 12, 2019 at 3:00 pm

It is impossible to hold a productive discussion with someone who insults others, focuses on single words while ignoring the rest, and talks more than they listen. Then they flop to the floor and cry victim on a perceived slight. Rise above the DTJ behavior.

Your aim is to start a fight and draw a crowd, I get it. I can’t imagine how closely you monitor your web traffic numbers. Enjoy that hobby.

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John Washington July 12, 2019 at 3:37 pm

Aim is to start a fight? I rarely start fights. But I don’t walk away from them, either.

As for the rest, ironic projection. Not unlike the pariah you reference in your own backhanded insult.

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Ramon de Fuego July 12, 2019 at 8:55 am

In other words, I DESERVE to live in a city free of people who I wouldn’t normally associate with by choice. The underclasses – who needs “em, amirite?

What a beautiful sentiment. It’s wonderful that you have spent so much time and energy articulating your feelings. Thank you for having the courage to state this on behalf of the ultra—tan, stretched-faced, Porsche-driving Scottsdale crowd!

Bless you, sir. Jesus is holding a special place in heaven for you.

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John Washington July 12, 2019 at 11:30 am

Invoking a deity is always helpful in these discussions!

The folks I most dislike having to “associate with” are those who are intellectually dishonest. That probably covers a lot of the folks with whom you’d like to lump me, but mostly it’s just you.

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Karin Cather July 12, 2019 at 9:45 am

So, basically you hate the working class, think that they should live somewhere else in the Valley (preferably away from you), and think this is somehow a defensible position? The notion that people who work in Scottsdale should be able to live here is “lowbrow”? What if every city thinks like Scottsdale? Those of us who can’t afford “luxury housing” just need to move into a yurt in the desert?

Have you actually *looked* at the people who stock the shelves at Best Buy or are your eyeballs glued to your phone?

Not everyone can go to college. They don’t have the academic ability or the money. *Someone* has to staff the cash register or bus your tables. (You think they are all teens? Have you actually *looked* at them or are these workers invisible to you?) They have the right to live where they work.

If you are confused by that civilized idea, then look at it from naked self-interest: Less driving means less traffic and less air pollution. (Taking the bus changes a 45-minute commute to a two- to three-hour commute.)

Your position is just inhuman.

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John Washington July 12, 2019 at 11:28 am

Looks like a stirred up a hornet’s next of self-righteous indignation, false equivalence, word parsing, and context piracy here. Where to start?

First, I spent all morning (and the past several mornings) doing roofing. So, if I hate the “working class” (whatever your definition of that actually is), I guess I hate myself. It’s not my vocation, but I do it because I can and to save a little money.

My use of the term “lowbrow” refers to simplistic and very tired rhetoric employed by every developer who wanted to come to Scottsdale and get some zoning concession, reduced development standards, or lowered development fees in order to make more money off their big-box high-rise housing project.

People that work in Scottsdale can live anywhere they want. I have no problem with that. In fact, MANY people who work in Scottsdale (which is a net importer of work force, has been for many years, and probably will be into the distant future) live elsewhere, because they can live elsewhere cheaper, or get more for their money elsewhere. I chose to buy a smaller, older home in Downtown Scottsdale, because that’s what I could afford; and because it also gave me walking/biking access to downtown amenities. It’s not rocket science. And it’s not class warfare.

“They have the right to live where they work.”

No, they don’t have a “right” to live anywhere that they can’t afford, and neither do I or you. We don’t have a “right” to own cars we can’t afford. We don’t have a “right” to a steak dinner every night if we can’t pay for it.

“Less driving means less traffic and less air pollution. (Taking the bus changes a 45-minute commute to a two- to three-hour commute.)”

Seems a little self-contradictory, but I’ll go with it… Riding a bike isn’t always practical around here, but I do it when I can. I rarely take public transit, mostly because it’s simply a pain to figure out how to get from one place to another. But I advocate all the time for better cycling infrastructure AND public transit.

“Inhuman?” Wow. I’ll add that to “elitist,” and “immoral.”

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Peter September 3, 2019 at 11:31 am

I tried going into this with an open mind but you come off as a grade-a asshole. You’re full of contradictions and have a VERY high opinion of yourself. I almost laughed out loud when you talked about your “humble opinion”. You view yourself and your opinion superior to everyone else

First, you got into an argument on an article you didn’t even read. Literally judging a book by its cover. That’s something we tell children not to do, but apparently you never got the memo.

Next, you LOVE putting words in people’s mouths or using the straw man fallacy. Heck, the title of your article is a “quote” that doesn’t seem to have actually been said by anyone but you.

You also clearly have an issue with reading comprehension. Mr. Gurcsik states that, in his opinion, it’s immoral do a certain thing, and you immediately turn it into him calling you personally immoral. He never said anything about you, but you seem to have a hard time not making everything about you. Again later on when Mr. Van Parys talks about a rhetorical person who “think(s) Scottsdale should be walled off from people who are less wealthy than (them)” instead of challenging the point, you seem to agree with his assertion of your point and are instead with him referring to you as elitist. That implies that you do actually think that Scottsdale should be walled off from people who are less wealthy than you. Either that or you are ravenous to be the victim here.

You state you’re “not a big fan of labels” but literally can’t make it past the first sentence without doing so, referring to others you don’t agree with as “keyboard warriors” and throwing around labels left and right throughout the article.

I’m also not sure about the legality of using what I’m assuming are pictures taken from Facebook without those people’s permission. Should probably look into it, or consider removing them.

Your comment replies don’t put you in a good light either. It was possible that you wrote the original post in a bad mood or something and it doesn’t reflect how you normally act, however the way you reply to comments gets rid of that theory as you are consistently a jerk in new and creative ways in them.

I’m sure you’ll just write my whole comment off as just another one of the many, many people who think you act like an elitist asshole or maybe you’ll even simplify it to something as childish as “just a hater”, but I hope one day the mountain of comments and replies you get from seemingly all side of your life that are saying the same thing will eventually get through to you. Maybe one day you’ll have an ounce of self-awareness. One can only hope.

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John Washington September 4, 2019 at 12:08 pm

I got a good laugh out of your comment, Peter, thanks.

First, at least I sign my name to my work.
Second, I read Betty’s article, and I reproduced it for you to read. So I think it is you who has a reading comprehension issue.
Third, I’ll skip all your nonsense in the middle, because I can’t comprehend it and therefore have no basis upon which to reply.
Fourth, pictures from Facebook? Sue me.
Fifth, I wrote the article after all the folks mentioned piled onto comments I’d made on an article in the mainstream media. It isn’t like they didn’t open the door to debate.
Lastly, to your “elitist” commentary: You don’t know me. Using your own ad hominem criticism ignores all of the salient points of the discussion, and well, hypocrisy much?

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Adrienne Knauer September 4, 2019 at 11:20 am

“Keyboard warriors”…Pot calling the kettle black much?

I’m curious if you have as much courage to say these pointed words in person to those you’ve quoted as you do typing them.

True, genuine change comes from talking to people in person, not writing an article where the bulk of it is other people’s words copied and pasted.

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John Washington September 4, 2019 at 11:55 am

I’d be happy to meet you face-to-face anytime… at least once.

“writing an article where the bulk of it is other people’s words copied and pasted.”

If this article is all you’ve read, then you are ignoring the thousand-plus articles I’ve researched and written over the last twenty years as I’ve worked on these issues at all levels of city government with hundreds of other people. Not surprising since I’ve never even heard your name before, so I doubt you’ve been involved in any of that.

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Rick October 2, 2019 at 8:06 pm

The Constitution grants you the right to “pursue happiness,” it does not guarantee it. One does not have a right to live just anywhere, you have to earn it. I do not live in Beverly Hills or Malibu for one simple reason…I can’t afford to live there. That doesn’t make me angry, it makes me want to work harder and smarter to achieve that goal.

Instead of blaming your shortcomings on those who have been more financially successful than you, maybe you should try to learn how they’ve achieved. I’ll give you a hint…99% of the time it’s hard work, dedication and sacrifice. One of the rewards for that is getting to live wherever you want.

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